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Court documents: Spell stole $16 million, not $60 million
Sentencing scheduled for today in Ponzi scheme case
0820Wendell Spell
Wendell Spell

Wendell Spell is no Bernie Madoff, his lawyer says.

Government prosecutors have determined that the amount of money Spell stole from investors in Gainesville and elsewhere is far less than initially stated, according to court documents filed by Spell’s attorney this week in U.S. District Court.

Spell’s sentencing is scheduled for today before U.S. District Court Judge William C. O’Kelley.

When Spell pleaded guilty in March to a single count of wire fraud, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia said that Spell was suspected of defrauding at least 50 investors of more than $60 million in a Ponzi scheme.

But according to a sentencing memorandum filed by defense attorney Paul Cognac this week, "the government and Mr. Spell agree that the amount of loss in this case is $16,726,276.89."

That revision in the monetary loss to victims likely affects the amount of time Spell faces in prison. Last week, attorneys not connected to the case speculated that with 50 victims and losses of $60 million, Spell was looking at between 11 and 14 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. The final decision will be up to O’Kelley.

Spell’s attorney is asking for a sentence that "is both rational and proportionate," suggesting that three to four years in prison would be "reasonable and appropriate."

Sentencing guidelines apparently call for more than four years in prison. Cognac wrote that an increase in punishment for the amount of loss called for under the sentencing guidelines "is both unreasonable and counterproductive."

Cognac cited the case of Madoff, the notorious New York financier who was sentenced in June to 150 years in federal prison for a $60 billion Ponzi scheme, as well as New York attorney Marc Dreier, who got 20 years in a $400 million scheme.

"Not only is Mr. Spell no Madoff, he is no Dreier," Cognac wrote.

At least one of Spell’s victims, however, believes the government’s math is wrong. An attorney for Chad Aman of Gainesville wrote that Aman lost $3 million to Spell but that an analysis by a government investigator working on the case "established that (Aman) suffered no loss."

Attorney Allen Moye asked O’Kelley to delay today’s sentencing hearing so that his client could review the government’s loss analysis in the case and interview the investigator who prepared it. Moye wrote that if the hearing went forward as scheduled, Aman would be denied his right to be fully heard on restitution he felt Spell owed him.

Aman also said he was not told when Spell would plead guilty, and as a victim was "deprived of his right to be present at the proceedings."

Spell’s March 23 guilty plea was conducted before a U.S. Magistrate judge in a courtroom nearly void of spectators, with no victims present.

Cognac wrote that Spell’s punishment for his crimes "has already begun."

"He has been publicly disgraced and vilified," Cognac wrote. "His friends have abandoned him, and his colleagues have shunned him. He has had to witness the shame and suffering that his actions have brought upon his family."

Spell’s house went into foreclosure and his assets were frozen and later seized by the government.

Cognac said Spell received death threats, and after someone broke into his home, Spell decided to live apart from his family for the past 10 months.

Spell, 50, has been free on a $25,000 unsecured bond since pleading guilty.

"(Spell) asks for the opportunity to still have some meaningful life beyond incarceration and for the opportunity to make some meaningful attempt at paying restitution to his victims," Cognac wrote.

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