A Washington man was sentenced yesterday to 10 years in prison for fraud in connection with an elaborate hoax in which he cheated 13 people, most of them recent immigrants, out of more than $200,000.
Gary Stephen Simon, 31, was convicted May 24 by a U.S. District Court jury in Alexandria of nine counts of mail fraud, seven of interstate transportation of stolen goods and two of tax fraud. U.S. District Court Judge James C. Cacheris said it was unlikely Simon could make restitution of $209,908 he stole and that incarceration was necessary.
In a brief statement before sentence was imposed, Simon said he apologized "to the people I hurt." Most of them lost their life savings of thousands of dollars to Simon, who had promised to set them up in small businesses.
The jury, which heard from 50 witnesses over seven days, was told that Simon approached people and offered to set them up in "mom and pop" stores, beauty shops or carry-out restaurants in exchange for a fee. After they paid the money, the businesses were never delivered.
Simon preyed on recent immigrants who were eager to make it on their own, but unsophisticated in the ways of American entrepreneurship, government prosecutors said at the trial.
Chang Choi, a Korean who had worked seven years blasting tunnels for the Washington Metro construction, saving more than $35,000, testified that he turned over about $30,000 to Simon for construction of a carry-out restaurant in the District. Choi said he lost all his money.
Simon, who was on the stand for 11 hours, said yesterday in court that he had told the truth then and "I never had the intention to hurt those people."
Simon's mother embraced him before he was led away by a U.S. marshal after his sentencing. "Don't worry, we'll get over this, just like we always have," Simon told her.