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Sentencing date is set for Spell

Ponzi schemer faces up to 20 years in prison

POSTED: April 15, 2009 11:42 p.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Wendell Spell pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud March 23 in U.S. District Court in Gainesville. The charge carries a statutory sentence of 20 years in prison.

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The man accused of perpetrating the biggest fraud in Hall County history will learn in 10 weeks how much time he will serve in prison.

Wendell Ray Spell of Clermont is due in U.S. District Court in Gainesville for a sentencing hearing June 26, according to an order signed this week by Judge William C. O’Kelley.

Spell, 50, pleaded guilty March 23 to one count of wire fraud. The maximum sentence is 20 years, though Spell could be sentenced to less time for cooperating with prosecutors.

The government believes Spell operated a Ponzi scheme through his Gainesville heavy equipment company that bilked at least 50 investors of more than $60 million.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Cole granted bond of $25,000 for Spell, allowing him to remain free while awaiting his sentence. His address was placed under seal by the judge after his attorney said Spell had received death threats.

Sentencing hearings often occur months after a conviction or guilty plea in federal cases. In the interim, an in-depth presentencing investigation is conducted by federal probation officials and a report given to the judge to assist him in deciding on a sentence.

The report can contain everything from a defendant’s family history to any mitigating factors that could be considered by a judge at sentencing.

According to prosecutors, Spell ran a Ponzi scheme from February 2005 to October 2008, promising investors as much as 36 percent annual interest. The scheme revolved around the alleged purchase of heavy equipment, which Spell said he would sell to third parties at a substantial profit. In many instances, Spell presented investors with bogus bills of sale for equipment he never bought, according to prosecutors.

There have been at least 20 victims from Hall County who have been identified in lawsuits and other court documents. Spell is named as a defendant in three separate lawsuits filed by a total of 18 people.

The plaintiffs have been unable to serve Spell with the suits because has been in hiding since October.

Spell’s attorney has said his client is broke.



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