Keisha Williams lived large. When she stayed at the Ritz-Carlton in the Bahamas, her cabana had to have a balcony, and her shrimp could not be jumbo — “too tough.” At the Cavalieri in Rome, she complained that the Mercedes that picked her up was “too small” — not her “vision of luxury.” In Bora Bora, she bragged that she spotted actor Tracy Morgan, but “I have the biggest Villa on the island.”
For the next 15½ years, Williams will live in a federal prison after admitting that the millions she spent on luxury vacations, cars, restaurants and in high-end shops came from a fraudulent health-care software scheme that fleeced more than 50 people out of their savings.
“The way in which you spent this money . . . is appalling,” Judge Leonie M. Brinkema told her before imposing the sentence Friday in federal court in Alexandria. “It was one of the worst [cases] I’ve seen.”
Williams, 43, of Ashburn, Va., pleaded guilty to 14 fraud-related charges several days into a trial this past fall, after 20 people had testified against her.
During the trial and at her sentencing, prosecutors noted, Williams carried an $1,800 leather portfolio she bought for her trip to Italy with money from one of the victims who testified, a special needs teacher and recent widow.
“The gall [of] that act speaks volumes,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Grace Hill said in court.
After sentencing Williams, Brinkema ordered her to surrender the Bottega Veneta portfolio. She also had to forfeit a car, gun, watches and other items.
“You’re not going to be able to take it with you to prison anyway,” the judge said.
For four years, Williams claimed she had purchased Austrian software that would allow doctors to remotely examine and talk with patients and needed cash to pay taxes and fees on the product.
She convinced a successful California businessman named Christian D’Andrade to partner with her to raise $4 million, including $1.4 million of his own money. She raised over $1 million more from other victims.
In fact, Williams never fully purchased the health-care software, spending less than $300,000 of the total $5.4 million she had gotten from investors. Most of the rest she spent on herself and her girlfriend, according to court records.
“This is a being without a heart or soul; no human can do what she has knowingly done to so many of us,” one victim wrote in a letter to the court.
D’Andrade, 70, lost his business, two houses, a car and all his savings, according to court papers, along with the savings of his girlfriend, his ex-wife and a business mentee. He admitted lying to several victims himself about where the money was going and how quickly it would be paid back, while believing Williams would make good on her promises. He is serving a probationary sentence.
Along with D’Andrade, three others admitted getting sucked into Williams’s scam as semi-unwitting co-conspirators. Prosecutors say that when D’Andrade’s network started to run dry, Williams turned to Carla McPhun, a Maryland real estate investor who met Williams through D’Andrade. McPhun admitted that she lied to one investor about where the money was going, thinking she would be able to repay it soon. She did not realize the entire project was a fraud until she saw on the news in February that Williams had been arrested.
“That was only the beginning of the nightmare,” McPhun, who lost her life savings and her home, said in court last year. She was also sentenced to probation.
Two others, both former air marshals, admitted that Williams convinced them to intimidate people she claimed owed her money by pretending to still be federal agents. Ruben Gresham was the first in his family to ever break the law, he said before being sentenced to three months in prison. Arthur Robinson survived a traumatic childhood to become a Pentagon police officer who rushed into the burning building after the 9/11 attacks.
“I disrespected my former brothers and sisters in law enforcement,” Robinson said in court before being given a probationary sentence in the fall. “I don’t anticipate I’ll forgive myself for a long, long time.”
Williams, who has degrees in electrical engineering and law, initially came under investigation after complaints that her consulting firm charged small businesses advance fees for work she never performed. Prosecutors say they also found evidence she was involved in mortgage fraud.
In court Friday, she offered little explanation, dwelling instead on the education and career she believed made her a good candidate for rehabilitation over punishment.
“I believe I am a good person who made some bad choices,” she said. Responding to a victim who asked how she could sleep at night, she quoted a Bible verse from 2 Corinthians, adding, “I’m a new person.”
Hundreds of messages she sent over the years of the fraud are included in court records, exposing in detail her manipulations and lies.
She faked bank documents to claim she would soon get a $58 million loan from “John,” described by prosecutors in a court filing as “a fictional cancer-ridden Texas billionaire.”
When she pretended to be at a Dallas hospital negotiating with John, the court records show, Williams was actually at Disney World and then on a $75,000 trip to Jamaica for her girlfriend’s birthday.
Repeatedly, when telling D’Andrade she was broke and struggling to deal with financial and medical emergencies, Williams was on trips with her girlfriend all over the world.
“It’s so much pain!” she texted him in December 2017. “I have a massive headache can’t even open my eyes barely and still trying to find remaining money to get this done today.”
She was, in reality, on vacation in the Bahamas, where in text messages she crowed that the hotel had given her four butlers but complained about her cabana’s lack of a balcony.
“I spend the most at the Ritz in food and beverage all year and for many years,” she wrote in one message, according to court papers. “They need to take care of me.”
Not long after telling D’Andrade she was desperate for money and in too much pain to talk on the phone about finances, she texted someone else, “I’ll call you after we snorkel.”
At one point, she told D’Andrade she was being detained in Austria and couldn’t leave unless he sent her $150,000 immediately.
“I lost both houses as of today. I don’t know what else I can do,” he told her.
She responded that if he couldn’t help her, she might not see her dying grandmother.
“I’m sad and stressed about this but my gma I’m in tears,” she wrote him.
She was actually just back from Bora Bora and debating a friend via text whether to rent a yacht on her next trip to Miami — “a beautiful one with hand and foot service.”
Williams’s grandmother was truly ill, according to the court filings, and her mother had asked her to call. “Me calling isn’t going to do anything,” Williams responded. “They need to send some money if they want me there.”
A month before Williams’s arrest in February, D’Andrade sent her his Social Security check.
“I normally use that to psy [sic] my phone and utility bills which is over due,” he wrote. “I will see if o [sic] can get a few days extension on them.”
Williams was on a trip to Italy at the time, staying at five-star hotels in Florence, Rome and Venice. Estimating she spent about $200,000 on the trip, she told a friend, “It’s worth every penny, the memories and the beauty and culture of other places is priceless.”