Father and son arrested in Japan are jailed for a Las Vegas-based Ponzi scheme

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(AP) – Two former investment executives arrested in Japan were sentenced to five years in prison in the United States on Tuesday for their role in what federal authorities called a $1.5 billion international Ponzi scheme with 10,000 victims in the United States and abroad.

Junzo Suzuki and his son, Paul Suzuki, apologized to the judge, their family and their victims before each was sentenced by the US District Court in Las Vegas to five years in prison and three years of probation, 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 compared the case involving Las Vegas-based MRI International Inc. with the biggest fraud cases in the United States.

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

Junzo Suzuki, 73, is a lawful permanent resident of the United States but faces deportation after his prison sentence, according to court documents. He has multiple health issues and has been on bail since April 2020 due to potential exposure to COVID-19 behind bars. He is due in jail on July 8.

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

The pair 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 prison sentence in the United States.

Prosecutors told jurors that from around 2009 to early 2013, Fujinaga ran a Las Vegas operation that told Japanese investors they were buying debt from a medical collection company, court documents show.

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

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

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

American lawyers compared Fujinaga’s conviction to 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 the age of 82 while serving a 150-year sentence for defrauding 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.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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