REDDING -- Gary T. Armitage, a former Santa Rosa investment adviser accused of helping to swindle hundreds of millions of dollars from North Coast residents, was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday following an emotional hearing where victims of his massive Ponzi scheme lashed out at the man they hold responsible for ruining their lives and their retirements.
Concord resident Andy Fine, 65, was particularly scathing during a lengthy statement in Shasta County Superior Court, where more than three dozen Bay Area victims gathered to confront their former financial adviser.
"You are a shameful, repulsive excuse for a human being," Fine told Armitage, who sat with his back to the gallery of victims and did not face them. "I will hate you and hold you in contempt for the rest of my life."
Armitage, 62, is expected to be released in less than four years, with credit for time already served in jail and good behavior -- a sentence criticized as lenient by both victims and a probation officer. After his release, he is expected to be on parole for three years.
Armitage was arrested in 2009 with two alleged accomplices, James Koenig of Redding and Jeffrey Guidi of Santa Rosa, after a 17-month investigation.
The case, with 2,000 victims statewide, is considered one of the largest Ponzi schemes in state history. Then-Attorney General Jerry Brown said the men "callously swindled thousands of individuals out of $200 million to bankroll their extravagant lifestyles."
At its height, Koenig's Asset Real Estate and Investment, or AREI, controlled 22 senior assisted-living housing facilities. Investors were told the investments were risk-free tax shelters that would produce healthy returns and steady retirement income for years to come.
There were just two problems. Koenig was a convicted felon who had served time in federal prison in the 1980s in a gold-selling scam, something investors say was concealed from them. And prosecutors accused the men of selling more shares in the investments than really existed, and using the assets from new investors to pay returns to existing ones.
Koenig went on trial in January, a case expected to wrap up in May. Armitage took a plea bargain in January on the eve of trial. Guidi also took a plea deal to lesser charges.
Fine accused Armitage of advising him to invest six figures in a corporate note for AREI. Fine said Armitage knew the investment was "a piece of garbage" by April 2007, but reassured him of its soundness anyway.
"Gary played me like a drum," said Fine, who himself worked in the financial services industry. "He lied to me on the phone. He lied to me in emails. He lied to me . . . while looking me right in the eye."
Ron and Sandy Johnson of Auburn, retired employees of Fireman's Fund Insurance in Novato, said Armitage convinced them to refinance their home and sell a rental property to get more money to invest with him.
He said Armitage moved his money from one of the senior living centers into the corporate note and lied about having Johnson's permission to do so. They lost $1.2 million, according to court records.
"Not only did you steal the money we worked for our entire lives, you also destroyed our ability to trust in others and ourselves," Ron Johnson told him. "All of your words and promises turned out to be lies to support your grand way of living."