A 28-year-old former paralegal who admitted gambling away hundreds of thousands of dollars investors thought she was using to fund a high-end sports-ticket resale business was sentenced Friday to 21 / 2 years in federal prison.

Sobbing and wiping away tears, Ailyn Roque apologized repeatedly to a federal district court judge in Alexandria, saying she knew that what she had done was “an awful and terrible thing.” She pleaded guilty to wire fraud in April, and authorities said Friday that she bilked as many as 23 people out of nearly $800,000.

“I don’t want to be this thing, this thing that I’m so ashamed of,” Roque said.

Judge T.S. Ellis III said Roque’s remorse seemed genuine but the amount of money stolen warranted a harsh penalty. “That is a very substantial theft, causing a great deal of harm,” Ellis said.

Prosecutors had asked in court filings that Roque be sentenced to a prison term of at least two years and nine months. Although her scheme was not complicated, they said, it was still serious. One victim, authorities said, lost his $250,000 life savings. “This was a devastating loss for some of these people,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy D. Belevetz said.

Roque, a University of Florida graduate who moved to the D.C. area in 2010 and worked as a paralegal at various places, launched her scheme in June 2011. She told friends and acquaintances that she needed investors for a high-end sports-ticket resale business, according to court filings.

She told them that she could buy tickets and resell them at a profit and that those who invested with her would get a percentage of the profit, court filings show. But Roque never bought any tickets, prosecutors wrote. Authorities said she gambled away most of the money she was given, incurring $400,000 in losses from 2010 to 2012.

When investors came asking for their profits, prosecutors said, Roque paid them with money she got from other investors or persuaded them to roll their old investments into new ones. Taking out the payments she made, she cheated 17 people out of more than $639,000, according to the court filings. She recruited one investor in September — after she had been interviewed by law enforcement, the filings show.

Three people who fell prey to the scheme spoke in court Friday, telling the judge how Roque, who most recently had been sleeping on friends’ couches and in her car, mocked them as they begged for their money back. A doctor who met Roque through a mutual friend said he and his sister together lost about $60,000. A lawyer who worked with Roque at a firm in Falls Church said she lost about $30,000 that she had hoped would go toward a financial safety net. “She took pretty much all my savings,” said Meredith Hartley, the lawyer.

Geremy C. Kamens, Roque’s attorney, said in court that Roque become “disconnected from her moral compass” during the scheme but now has “an extraordinary amount of remorse for her conduct.” He argued that she be sentenced to a term of 15 months, saying she was focused on repaying her victims and restoring her reputation with her family.

“We’d ask the court to give her the opportunity to focus on paying what she owes,” Kamens said.