A former San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy has admitted swindling at least $5.6 million from victims he invited to invest in non-existent business opportunities.
Christopher Lloyd Burnell, of Highland, Calif., frittered away much of the victims’ cash at the nearby Yaamava’ Resort & Casino, formerly the San Manuel Casino, prosecutors said.
In a federal court in Riverside on Monday, Burnell pleaded guilty to 11 counts of wire fraud and two counts of filing a false tax return. The 51-year-old worked on and off for the sheriff’s department for several years, according to records viewed by The Press Enterprise.
Now, he faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced in August.
Burnell portrayed himself to his victims, falsely, as a successful businessman who had made millions from selling a patent for an air-cooled, bulletproof vest to Oakley Inc., prosecutors said. He also claimed to have won millions of dollars in lawsuits against the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office and Kaiser Permanente.
From around November 2010 to September 2017, he offered “exclusive” investment opportunities with unlikely returns, soliciting hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time. Some were offered ROIs of 100%, to be delivered in a matter of weeks, according to prosecutors.
None of these opportunities were real. Instead, Burnell blew the money gambling, losing more than $2M at the Yaamava’ Casino.
Additionally, he squandered $500,000 on private jet trips, $70,000 on Louis Vuitton merchandise, and $175,000 on luxury cars, and apartment leases for girlfriends, according to court filings.
Bogus Bank Statement
“Burnell continued this investment fraud scheme for years, until he could not identify new victims to defraud and the money from his victims ran out,” the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a statement.
“As victims began to raise concerns to him about a lack of repayment and defaults, Burnell claimed that his money had been tied up in a trust fund, and his remaining assets had been seized by federal authorities,” said the prosecutor.
He then extracted more money from victims by claiming he needed funds to pay for his wife’s cancer treatment, a child custody dispute with his father-in-law, and other personal expenses.
To keep them sweet, he showed them a forged Wells Fargo bank statement indicating that he had over $150 million in his account, which he would use to repay them once the money was freed up.
In truth, he had less than $6,500 in the account.
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