Father, son arrested in Japan get US prison for Ponzi scheme

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Two former investment executives arrested in Japan were sentenced Tuesday to five years in a U.S. prison for their roles in what federal authorities called a $1.5 billion international Ponzi scheme with 10,000 victims in the U.S. and abroad.

Junzo Suzuki and his son, Paul Suzuki, apologized to the judge, their family and their victims before each was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas to five years in prison and three years of supervised release, according to court records and their attorney, Richard Wright.

The father-son defendants pleaded guilty in January to one count of wire fraud and avoided trial on 15 federal fraud charges. Prosecutors have compared the case involving Las Vegas-based MRI International Inc. with the biggest-ever U.S. fraud cases.

U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro scheduled a June 28 hearing at which the government, defense attorneys and lawyers for victims will focus on a possible $141 million in restitution.

Junzo Suzuki, 73, has been a legal permanent resident of the U.S. but will face deportation following his prison term, according to court documents. He has multiple health issues and has been on pretrial release since April 2020 due to the potential exposure to COVID-19 behind bars. He is due to surrender for prison July 8.

Paul Suzuki, 43, is a U.S. citizen, but has been in custody since the two men were arrested in Japan in January 2019. Navarro said he can be allowed to live with family in Japan while he serves his three years of supervised release.

The two were arrested in Japan just two months after a federal jury in Las Vegas found their co-defendant, Edwin Fujinaga, guilty of 20 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering.

Fujinaga, now 75, is serving a 50-year U.S. prison sentence.

Prosecutors told jurors that from about 2009 to early 2013, Fujinaga ran a Las Vegas operation that told Japanese investors they were buying claims from a medical collection business, according to court documents.

He was found guilty of using new investors’ money to pay off previous investors and spending the lavishly on a Las Vegas golf course mansion, a private jet, luxury cars and real estate in California wine country, Beverly Hills and Hawaii.

Junzo Suzuki was MRI International’s executive vice president and Paul Suzuki managed Tokyo operations. Prosecutors said that when the Japanese government revoked MRI’s license to market securities in April 2013, the firm owed investors more than $1.5 billion.

Wright said his clients learned of the Ponzi scheme only about a year before it collapsed.

U.S. attorneys had compared Fujinaga’s conviction with those of Bernard Madoff in 2009 in New York, Allen Stanford in 2012 in Houston, and Scott Rothstein in 2010 in Miami.

Madoff died in prison in April 2021 at age 82 while serving a 150-year sentence for bilking thousands of investors out of at least $20 billion.

Stanford, 72, is serving 110 years for a scheme involving more than $7 billion. Rothstein, 59, is serving 50 years in a $1.2 billion case.

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