Fifteen victims were present at San Joaquin County Superior Court to talk about the losses they experienced at the hands of Ward and Jensen, who were each sentenced to three years in San Joaquin County Jail with an option to apply for an in-house arrest program with an ankle monitor.
A Ponzi scheme is an investment swindle in which some early investors are paid off with money put up by later ones in order to encourage more and bigger risks, according to Webster’s Dictionary.
Court documents state that Ward and Jensen — acting as officers of Ward Real Estate — collected the money in the form of investments from 33 victims ranging from $45,000 to $1,000,000 for a total restitution loss of $5,806,735.18.
Judge Richard Guiliani sentenced Ward and Jensen, both 47 years old, to three years in county jail after they agreed to a deal with Deputy District Attorney James Lewis to enter guilty pleas on Thursday. Both women admitted to failure to file tax returns with intent to evade, sale of securities by false statements, grand theft and conspiracy.
Guiliani said both women have until Sept. 10 to get permission from the San Joaquin County Sheriff to implement the home monitoring program or report to the jail by Oct. 1 to being serving their sentence.
Before sentence was pronounced on the two women, Jensen cried as she apologized for her actions to the victims present in the courtroom. However, she denied any involvement in the money scheme.
“I have to live with this reality every single day,” she said. “I am truly sorry for everything that happened.”
Tempers flared for a few of the victims, while others found it difficult to hold back their tears as they addressed the court.
“What Leesa Ward and Alison Jensen did to all these people is appalling,” said Paula Barnett, who lost $170,000. “They knew what they were doing. They set out to defraud us. Three years is ridiculous. Three years should be in prison.”
Barnett demanded that the defendants turn and face her and the other victims, but Guiliani told her they were not allowed. He said all of their comments had to be made directly to the court.
Barnett said she lost her savings and her home because of the Ponzi scheme, while others said they had to fight numerous foreclosures.
Willie Smith, who lost $200,000, said the actions of Ward and Jensen destroyed the dreams and life savings he and his wife had collected.
“It was nothing more than a Ponzi scheme,” Smith said. “You knew that from the beginning.”
Claudette Medeiros, who lost $90,000 of her inheritance, said she had a “gut feeling” there was something wrong when she handed a check to Ward. She said that Ward guaranteed her a 12-percent return on an investment. Meanwhile, Ward was reportedly spending the money on parties, plastic surgery and vehicles.
Al Murray, whose father lost $394,000, said “Lisa said she guaranteed no one would lose anything.”
“What happened to all the money? I want justice for my dad and everyone here,” Murray said.
Lewis, who prosecuted the case, told the victims that he too wasn’t happy with the settlement agreement, but he said he tried to seek a resolution that was best for all involved. He said that investigators conducted an extensive search for the victims’ money, but its believed that it was all spent while the scheme was underway.
Lewis noted that Ward tried to protect herself by filing for bankruptcy in 2009.
“This was a complex settlement,” Lewis said, “and I tried to get the best results for the victims.”
The two women are no longer work as realtors or file for bankruptcy again, Lewis said. Unless the money is uncovered at a later date, Lewis said the victims will only get reimbursed if Ward or Jensen inherit it or win the lottery.
Ward is reportedly living in Los Angeles with her boyfriend, while Jensen is believed to be a resident in the San Joaquin County area.
The case against the third defendant, Ward Real Estate bookkeeper Sharon Lee Graham, has yet to go to trial. A preliminary hearing for Graham has been scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 15 in Department 36 of San Joaquin County Superior Court. According to court documents, Ward and Jensen have agreed to testify against Graham.
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