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Woman, 71, Sentenced To Nine Years For $60 Million Ponzi Scheme

An Ohio woman was sentenced to serve nine years in prison after being convicted of assisting her husband in operating a $60 million Ponzi scheme that fleeced hundreds of investors.  Joanne Schneider, 71, pled guilty to multiple state fraud charges in exchange for the nine-year sentence, marking the culmination of a drawn-out legal process that started with an original three-year sentence being thrown out for being too lenient.  Her husband, Alan Schneider, was previously sentenced to a term of probation after pleading guilty in 2009.  Schneider will receive credit for the past 2.5 years in which she has been jailed, and will serve out the remaining 6.5 years in an Ohio state prison.

According to authorities, the scheme began in 2003, when Joanne Schneider solicited family and friends to invest in real estate development projects.  Potential investors were promised a high rate of return ranging from 16% to 20%.  From 2003 until January 2005, Schneider collected $60 million from nearly 900 investors.  A family member later became suspicious and contacted the Ohio Department of Commerce, who issued a cease-and-desist order against Schneider.  After Schneider continued to defy the cease-and-desist order, the state obtained injunctive relief and secured the appointment of a receiver.

After Schneider pled guilty to the original charges, a county judge sentenced her to three years in prison.  Prosecutors appealed, arguing that one of the counts Schneider had pled guilty to carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years.  A state appeals court agreed, and sent the case back to an Ohio county court where Schneider was then sentenced to ten years.  After successfully arguing she had not been able to withdraw her original guilty plea, Schneider had been scheduled to stand trial this week, and entered into her guilty plea at the eve of the trial.  

A court-appointed receiver eventually recovered $10.5 million for the benefit of victims.  A large portion of that amount came from a settlement with the Schneiders' bank, FirstMerit Corp., which was accused of ignoring the classic signs that the Schneiders were running a Ponzi scheme through their bank accounts.  As part of the settlement, FirstMerit did not admit any liability or wrongdoing.