May 28, 2008
Prosecutors plan to seek a 13-year prison term and $19.1 million in restitution today from a Rhode Island man who helped swindle hundreds of Cambodian immigrants out of some $30 million.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns is set to sentence Christian Rochon of Warwick, R.I., on mail fraud and other charges related to Canton-based World Marketing Direct Services Inc.
Rochon, 57, the company’s ex-president, pleaded guilty last year and agreed to testify against ring leaders James Bunchan and Seng Tan, whom a jury later convicted.
Defense lawyer James Krasnoo said he plans to seek home confinement instead of prison for Rochon, who claims to suffer from numerous health problems.
A court has already sentenced Bunchan and Tan, who are married, to long prison terms. Bunchan also faces charges for allegedly trying to hire a hitman to kill Rochon and other witnesses.
World Marketing billed itself as a vitamin and beauty-supply company, but prosecutors say the firm was simply a “pyramid scheme” that targeted Bunchan and Tan’s fellow Cambodian immigrants.
The company promised $300-a-month payments for life to people who invested $26,000, and many victims refinanced homes or raided 401(k) plans to participate.
But authorities say the ring spent much of the money on houses, cars and high-stakes gambling trips. World Marketing then used cash from new victims to send early investors monthly payments until the scheme collapsed.
Scammers partly used memories of Cambodia’s 1970s “Killing Fields” era to advance the scam.
Tan reportedly told would-be investors she had fought the communists who took over Cambodia in the 1970s and killed some 2 million people. One victim also told prosecutors that after challenging the ring, Tan told people the man was “lucky he was not back in Cambodia or else he would have disappeared already.”