A former life insurance agent from Poway was sentenced to a dozen years in state prison Wednesday for orchestrating a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme that scammed nearly 50 victims, many of them senior citizens who lost their life savings.
Christopher Dougherty, 47, pleaded guilty earlier this year to securities fraud and grand theft charges for offering victims investment opportunities in companies he owned, then using some of their funds for his personal expenses, such as home remodeling, travel, and college tuition, according to the state Department of Insurance.
Among the investments Dougherty touted to his victims was a 100-acre organic cattle ranch and marijuana growing project in Alpine that didn't generate any profits for investors.
Dougherty also used some of the victims' money to pay back other investors "in classic Ponzi fashion," and when he was no longer able to pay his investors back, "the Ponzi scheme collapsed," according to a DOI statement.
More than half of Dougherty's victims were 65 years of age or older.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Zachry said more than $10 million was taken in, with a net loss to the victims totaling more than $7 million.
During a sentencing hearing held over video conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dougherty made a statement to the victims shortly before the stipulated 12-year sentence was handed down.
"I accept full responsibility for my actions," Dougherty said. "I've wanted to sincerely apologize to you and your family members, and I also want to let you know that I did make a mistake and I will not do this in the future."
Zachry said the case was "extremely egregious by any standard" and said the impact to the victims went beyond just the dollar amounts.
Regarding the senior citizen victims, Zachry said they are "not young enough to ever have any hope of earning back this money again -- this money that they had squirreled away for years and years for their golden years or to pass on to relatives or to just enjoy their life at a time after they had worked so hard during their younger days. That has been taken from them. So, it's more than just money, it's their entire lives."
Dougherty filed for bankruptcy in October 2018 and was charged in April 2019 by the San Diego County District Attorney's Office.