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Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 03:40 pm

Tougher sentence sought for Ponzi schemer

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James U. Dodge convinced his friends to invest in his Springfield-based Ponzi scheme.

A Springfield man who cheated dozens of people out of millions of dollars could face six and a half years in prison, if a federal judge grants prosecutors’ latest request.

James U. Dodge pleaded guilty in September of running a Ponzi scheme which targeted several Springfield residents, including Dodge’s friends, fellow retirees and a parapalegic who wrote a check to Dodge while being treated in a Veterans hospital. [See “Ponzi on the prairie,” Nov. 4, 2010].

Sentencing was originally scheduled for January, but after Dodge was assigned a new public defender earlier this month the court date has since been moved to March 22. At the sentencing, prosecutors expect that at least three victims will speak about how Dodge’s crimes affected them. Several other victims have submitted similar comments in writing.

In September, prosecuting attorney Patrick Hansen expected at least a 51-month prison sentence, according to reports in the State Journal-Register. Because Dodge represented himself as an investment broker, and paid at least one other person “commissions” for bringing in new investors, Dodge should have a longer sentence, prosecutors argue in documents filed with the court on Jan. 24. Cited by prosecutors as having received commissions is central Illinois resident Randy Stelbrink, who, waiting to speak to his lawyer, declined to comment when contacted by Illinois Times.

Based on the fact that Dodge sought checks from victims even after he knew the IRS was investigating his actions, prosecutors argue that the judge should not consider Dodge’s age in determining his sentence. After his arrest, Dodge also emptied out his bank accounts despite instructions from the court not to do so. Only under threat that his bond would be revoked did Dodge deposit the funds in a court account to be used for paying back his victims. “These two events give insight into a man who has no respect for the law, for his victims, or for any other person,” prosecutors wrote.

The government is also asking the court to require Dodge to pay back $1.8 million to his victims. According to the prosecution’s filings, Dodge is seeking lower restitution because some of those who invested with him actually made a profit. The prosecution counters that a decreased amount would be asking victims to “subsidize the costs associated with his fraud.”

Prosecutors have asked those who profited to voluntarily return any gains. Any of that money could help reduce the amount Dodge is required to pay, but so far "the defendant has given no indication that he is able or willing to get victims' money back from those investors who profited, or from his family members who benefited," prosecutors wrote in their latest filings. Dodge used $160,000 of the money gained from the scheme to benefit his son, James W. Dodge, a lawyer for Illinois Senate Democrats, and his son's family. Some of the funds paid for Dodge's grandson's tuition at a private boarding school. [See "Ponzi scheme benefited Senate Dems' lawyer," Oct. 14, 2010].

In seeking more time to prepare for sentencing, Dodge's new public defender, Thomas Wilmouth, writes that he needs more time to interview two victims and, in light of Dodge's lack of criminal history, to consider obtaining a mental health evaluation in order to determine his role. Wilmouth also writes that Dodge, who for eight months has stayed at his home under electronic monitoring, is willing to begin his prison sentence earlier than required

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com

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