CHICAGO (CBS) -- Anshoo Sethi just wanted to make his father proud.
Instead, his $900 million dream of building a hotel and convention complex near O'Hare Airport left his family in financial ruin. And on Tuesday, a federal judge handed Sethi a three-year prison term for conning foreign investors out of $160 million.
"You took advantage of hundreds of other people for your own personal gain without regard for what that might mean for those individuals," U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee told Sethi.
Sethi, 32, pleaded guilty to wire fraud more than a year ago, admitting he provided forged documents — including a bogus letter from Hyatt Hotels — to scam the investors who thought it would go toward Sethi's hotel.
The investors hoped to get visas in exchange under a controversial federal program. Sethi's development had been approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that grants visas to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in approved projects under the program known as EB-5, which aims to create jobs.
Instead, the feds caught Sethi telling "lie after lie after lie." None of Sethi's 290 investors wound up getting a visa, but they each received a refund of their $500,000 investment. Meanwhile, Sethi spent $15,000 on an astrologer in India and $110,000 on his girlfriend's cosmetic surgery using the investors' administrative fees, records show.
"I ask for forgiveness," Sethi told Lee last month. "The suffering and sleepless nights my family has gone through has been a powerful lesson in how my actions affect others, especially those who I love most and respect the most."
Patrick Collins, Sethi's defense attorney, wrote in a memo that Sethi was "an ambitious young man who was hopelessly outplayed by unscrupulous third-party consultants and advisers, some of whom even admitted to the government . . . that they purposely lied to or misled Anshoo."
Collins told Lee last month that more than half of the 290 investors were given fee waivers when they pumped their money into new projects — each saving $41,500.
He also said Sethi offered to help the feds investigate his advisers. He leveled an explosive accusation — that officials at the Illinois Finance Authority demanded $1 million when Sethi sought funding through the state agency. Authority officials told investigators the money was to cover administrative costs.
But federal prosecutors argued he "has not seriously cooperated . . . and failed to provide any particularly credible information" regarding misconduct by others.
"His intention was his own ambition, himself, his own greed, his own desires to fulfill at the expense of everybody else," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sunil Harjani said. "At the expense of the investors in China. At the expense of falsifying stuff to the U.S. government. At the expense of his family."
While handing down his sentence Tuesday, Lee acknowledged that Sethi appeared to be operating in an environment where "stretching the truth" or "outright lying" appeared to be tolerated or even encouraged. But he said Sethi was ultimately responsible for the fraud. He ordered Sethi to pay $8.8 million in restitution.
Sethi has lived with his parents his entire life, and his family owned the nearly 3-acre development site at 8201 W. Higgins Road for several years. It hired the law firm of Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan to file appeals that have lowered its property taxes.
In his plea deal, Sethi admitted providing phony documents to investors, assuring them that the hotels would be operated by Hyatt and other companies that actually had no such deals for the project. Sethi also told investors he'd obtained financing from the state of Illinois and $97 million in tax-increment financing from the city of Chicago, providing a bogus document from the city.
Prosecutors said Sethi had "a certain degree of charm and finesse, and the ability to speak in grandiose and persuasive language," which helped him fool investors. They also said he blatantly lied. For example, at one point he bragged that a company involved in the project "has 150 years of experience in managing hotels, convention centers and mid- and high-rise buildings."
Sethi actually set that company up himself — in 2010.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2017. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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