Edward Sellers Fitzgerald, a former Dana Point yacht broker who was accused of defrauding 26 local residents of more than $1.3 million through a yacht investment and sale scheme, was sentenced Monday to seven years in state prison, authorities said.
According to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office news release, Fitzgerald, 62, formerly of Dana Point and owner of Dana Island Yachts, accepted a plea deal, pleading guilty to eight counts of theft from and elder, 19 counts of using untrue statement in the purchase or sale of a security, 17 counts of grand theft and 14 counts of issuing non-sufficient checks with intent to defraud. All 58 counts were felonies.
On July 17, 2009 Fitzgerald emptied his bank accounts and disappeared. Soon thereafter, many of his acquaintances, friends and business associates came forward, saying that Fitzgerald owed them money.
Fitzgerald stole from some of the victims by securing loans from them to purchase boats for resale and then using the money for personal expenses. He then brought in new investors to pay off the first investors, prosecutors said. He also sold clients’ yachts, kept the sale funds and then issued bad checks to his clients, as well as stealing deposits given to him by clients wishing to purchase boats.
A warrant was put out for Fitzgerald’s arrest for operating a Ponzi scheme. On May 10, 2013, Fitzgerald was arrested in Delray Beach, Florida, and extradited back to Orange County 13 days later, where he has since been behind bars.
Only two of Fitzgerald’s victims, Richard Carnesale and Barry Lloyd, appeared in court.
In the courtroom Monday, dressed in a blue jail-issued uniform, Fitzgerald’s appearance had changed drastically as he was significantly thinner than he was in his booking photo.
Deputy District Attorney Sean O’Brien said Fitzgerald’s actual prison time will likely be reduced by nearly three years for time previously served and that the case file totaled 20,000 pages, taken from 38 cases of evidence acquired from Fitzgerald’s office and home.
“With good behavior, Fitzgerald could be released in two years or less,” O’Brien said, adding that Fitzgerald is responsible for $1,348,624 in restitution, filing for bankruptcy will not reduce his restitution debt, and victims can file for their respective amounts in civil court.
Fitzgerald was expected to be transferred to state prison sometime late this week.