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Irvine man gets 12-year prison sentence for bilking investors in $10 million Ponzi scheme

Richard Nickles of Irvine took a page from "Wizard of Lies" Bernie Madoff.
Richard Nickles of Irvine took a page from "Wizard of Lies" Bernie Madoff. Diana Henriques

An Irvine man got himself a 12-year prison sentence today for bilking $10 million out of several investors, many of them elderly people who were stripped of their life savings.

Richard Nickles engaged in a classic Ponzi scheme in which he collected investments -- nothing less than $50,000 -- that immediately were circulated back into paying off previous investments, Bernie Madoff-style. Ultimately, prosecutors said, his companies -- Santa Ana-based Innovative Advisory Services and Island Trader LLC -- lost all of their money in risky investments, leaving Nickles with nothing to pay back his victims.

Using these companies as fronts, “Nickles provided investors with false trade confirmations that identified securities he had not purchased or that were nonexistent,” the SEC alleged before Nickles finally pleaded guilty in March of last year. Ultimately he preyed upon about two-dozen victims, according to reports.

“There are no winners” in this case, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney said today in court, according to the Orange County Register. “It’s a sad day for everybody.”

Nickles, 59, was charged with fraud by the SEC in a complaint filed in 2010.

The Register told of one man who lost $300,000 to Nickles and died at age 90 of a heart attack without ever getting it back. Another couple, Pablo and Mercedes Serabia, lost $870,000 to Nickles and are now living off Social Security.

Though the judge called today’s sentence “significant,” Nickles had faced a maximum penalty of 25 years. 

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