A Florida man thought to be one of the youngest Ponzi schemers in history was sentenced to serve ten years in prison for masterminding an elaborate Ponzi scheme that netted him an Italian girlfriend, a house in Rome, and even a role in an Italian movie. Donald R. French, 26, received the sentence after previously pleading guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, which carried a possible maximum term of twenty years in prison. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp, who delivered the sentence, stated he found Ponzi schemes to be 'outrageous,' and rejected French's attorney's request to sentence French to the lower end of the 8-to-10 year range under federal sentencing guidelines. In delivering a sentence of 121 months, Judge Ryskamp questioned whether French was truly remorseful and branded him "just a junior Bernie Madoff."
Beginning in 2008, when he was just 21, French founded D3 Capital Management LLC ("D3"), appealing to high net-worth investors by listing an office address in the ritzy Mizner Park area of Boca Raton, Florida. Holding itself out as a 'premier provider of global investment management' with offices in Hong Kong and Rome, D3 promised investors lucrative annual returns of fifty percent or more through investments in foreign currency, solar energy, and commodities such as emeralds. In total, D3 managed to amass over $10 million from over 20 investors.
However, as French later confessed to an FBI agent, the lucrative returns were nothing more than an elaborate Ponzi scheme that existed solely to support a lavish lifestyle. This included living abroad in Rome for five years, frequent foreign travel, and extensive gambling losses. Indeed, the Mizner Park address listed as the principal office address for D3 turned out to be nothing more than a phone number and an address. Additionally, French invested no more than 15% of investor funds in legitimate investments, and admitted that he later withdrew the majority of the money he put in those investments.
French attributed his ability to convince investors to part with their hard-earned money to his "gift of gab." Using investor funds, French accumulated more than $1 million in debit card purchases and withdrew more than $1 million in cash while using investor funds as his personal piggy bank.
French was arrested in South Africa earlier this summer and subsequently deported to Las Vegas to face charges that he passed nearly $1 million in phony checks. According to authorities, French was a frequent visitor to Las Vegas, where he racked up exorbitant gambling debts that were later satisfied with investor funds. However, even after investor funds were depleted, French continued to frequent Las Vegas, where he racked up $600,000 in charges at popular casino The Cosmopolitan from April 2011 to June 2011.
French pled guilty to bad check charges in Nevada last summer, which landed him a 30-month prison sentence.