LAS VEGAS (AP) — Two former investment executives from Japan have pleaded guilty in Las Vegas to wire fraud in what prosecutors have 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, entered their pleas Wednesday in U.S. District Court in a plea deal that has each man facing five years in federal prison and three years of supervised release, according to court records.
Their pleas to one count of wire fraud avoided a trial that had been set to begin next month on 15 federal fraud charges. The father and son remain free under federal supervision pending sentencing May 11.
Attorneys Richard Wright and Junji Suzuki, representing the defendants, did not immediately respond Thursday to requests for comment on behalf of their clients. Junji Suzuki is not related to the defendants.
Prosecutors have compared the case involving Las Vegas-based MRI International Inc. with the biggest-ever U.S. fraud cases.
Junzo and Paul Suzuki were arrested in Japan in January 2019, 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.
Junzo Suzuki was 70 when he was arrested. Paul Suzuki was 40.
From about 2009 to early 2013, the three drew thousands of Japanese investors who were told they were buying claims from a medical collection business, according to court documents.
Fujinaga ran the Las Vegas operation. He was found guilty of using new investors’ money to pay off previous investors and spending the rest on himself, including 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, prosecutors said, and Paul Suzuki managed Tokyo operations.
U.S. attorneys had compared the case with the Ponzi scheme convictions of Bernard Madoff in 2009 in New York, Allen Stanford in Houston in 2012, and Scott Rothstein in 2010 in Miami.
Madoff died in prison last April at age 82 after being sentenced to 150 years for bilking thousands of investors out of at least $20 billion. Stanford, 71, is serving 110 years for a scheme involving more than $7 billion. Rothstein, 59, is serving 50 years in a $1.2 billion case.
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.
The U.S. Department of Justice has offered a website to provide information to victims of the MRI International scheme.
This story has been corrected to show that Bernard Madoff died in prison in April 2021.
Ken Ritter, The Associated Press