Woman gets 20 years for bilking Chinese in $26M hotel fraud

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A woman who bilked investors in a Southern California hotel and condominium project out of at least $26 million was sentenced Monday to 20 years in federal prison.

Ruixue “Serena” Shi, 38, of Arcadia was sentenced after a judge refused to allow her to withdraw her plea last year to wire fraud.

“There has been no acceptance of responsibility; there has been a denial of responsibility,” U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner said, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Prosecutors said that from late 2015 to mid-2018, Shi was the general manager of a real estate company based in China that had a Los Angeles office. She solicited investments, mainly from Chinese investors, in a 207-unit luxury complex to be built in the city of Coachella, in the desert southeast of Los Angeles.

In reality, Shi spent much of the money on luxury cars, travel, clothing, dining and shopping, prosecutors said. That included $800,000 at a “full-service styling agency” in Beverly Hills, prosecutors said.

“While her victims suffered financial ruin and psychological torment, (Shi) was living large off their investments,” prosecutors said in a sentencing document.

In court statements, more than two dozen victims submitted statements.

“Several discussed their reliance on Shi’s false promises that their investments would assist them in securing visas to immigrate to the United States. One victim even wrote that, after losing his retirement savings to Shi’s scheme, he ‘even contemplated suicide,’ the Department of Justice statement said.

In addition to prison time, Shi was ordered to pay $35.8 million in restitution.

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