In what is likely the stiffest sentence for a female Ponzi schemer, a Maine woman was sentenced to serve eighty years in prison for her role in a $4.7 million Ponzi scheme. Karen Bowie, 61, received the sentence after being convicted at a week-long trial in Austin, Texas of property theft. While Bowie was not charged with masterminding the scheme, authorities accused her of playing a focal role in promoting the scheme, in which she received over $2 million that was diverted from investors. While Bowie would be eligible for parole due to her conviction on state crimes, the sentence will likely be a life sentence.
Bowie was part of Titan Wealth Management, LLC ("Titan"), which was in the business of recommending European mid-term notes ("MTN's") to clients. Potential investors were told that the notes were low risk and offered outstanding short-term returns ranging from 10% to 50%. Additionally, Titan's owner, Thomas Lester Irby, told investors that Titan would receive no fees or compensation from selling the notes, and in the event of emergency, Irby could easily liquidate a $10 million MTN that he personally owned. Irby and Titan would eventually raise over $3 million from more than 30 investors.
However, investor funds were not pooled to purchase MTN's or even any interest in MTN's. Instead, millions of dollars in investor funds were used to pay putative MTN 'profits', as well as diverted for Irby's personal benefit. Bowie, who did not deal directly with investors but instead directed Irby to make false representations, also received nearly $2 million without providing any apparent consideration. Irby was sentenced in 2010 to 24 years in prison after being charged with money laundering.
Bowie's 80-year sentence should serve as a stark reminder of the perils of proceeding to trial rather than accepting a guilty plea. The severity of Bowie's sentence is not only grossly disproportional to the relatively meager amount of funds involved, but is also easily one of the highest handed down to a Ponzi schemer - man or woman. (While women have been convicted of operating Ponzi schemes, they are handily outnumbered by men.) Indeed, the 30-year sentence handed down to a Florida woman for orchestrating a $100 million Ponzi scheme pales in comparison to Bowie's sentence. Other examples of women being sentenced for Ponzi schemes are here, here, here, here, and here.