ST. GEORGE -- An investment counselor has been found guilty on seven of nine criminal charges stemming from a $180 million Ponzi scheme believed to be the largest case of financial fraud in the state's history.
William J. Hammons was convicted Thursday of counts including violation of securities, pattern of unlawful activity and abuse/neglect or exploitation of a vulnerable adult -- all second- degree felonies.
He was also convicted of four third-degree felony counts of operating as an unregistered securities agent. He declined to comment and left the court with his wife, who was in tears.
Authorities say he was the lead recruiter for projects by Val Southwick, who ran an estimated 150 companies under the name VesCor. That umbrella firm filed for bankruptcy in 2007, leaving about 180 investors out of at least $180 million.
The Ponzi scheme is believed to be the largest financial fraud in Utah history, with bankruptcy court records showing Hammons was the biggest outside salesman. Southwick, of Ogden, was sentenced in June 2008 to nine consecutive terms of one to 15 years in prison for securities fraud.
Roseann Campbell and her husband invested $100,000 with Hammons, but received only about $20,000. She said Thursday that she was relieved by the verdict.
"He is no longer in a position to con people out of their money," said Campbell, adding that she finds irony in Hammons' tax day sentencing date. "He was always whining about how much he hated tax day."
Michael Hines, director of enforcement for the state's Division of Securities and who testified at the trial, said the jury's verdict sends a message that securities fraud "causes a tremendous amount of damage to (victims)."
Hammons faces 15 years in prison on each second-degree felony and five years in prison for each third-degree felony. He was set to be sentenced April 15.
Hammons' defense team wouldn't comment and did not say whether it planned an appeal.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com