A 52-year-old Glendale man was sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison and ordered to repay nearly $9.8 million to families, some of whom lost their life savings when they unwittingly participated in his three separate scams, including a Ponzi scheme.
U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson described Kaveh Vahedi's Ponzi scam as "one of the most heartbreaking, vicious fraud schemes" that he has ever seen.
Before Vahedi's sentencing, Pregerson said he read letters from victims, who as a result of Vahedi's scams suffered failed marriages, panic attacks, anxiety, thoughts of suicide and struggles with feeding their families.
Some of his victims were seniors, cancer patients and another was a disabled law-enforcement officer.
Speaking before Pregerson, Glendale resident Fred Shokouvi, who lost $449,000 in Vahedi's scam, was overcome with emotion as he pulled out a small packet of instant soup and explained that it was the only thing he and his 8-year-old son could afford to eat.
"What is going to happen to my son's future?" he asked. "I cannot accept that a human can do this to another human."
Shokouvi was one of nine victims who described their struggles in court about their dealings with Vahedi.
In November 2012, Vahedi pleaded guilty to persuading more than 30 stakeholders to entrust approximately $12 million to his investment company, KGV Investments, to finance on their behalf. Investors eventually lost more than $8 million.
Vahedi agreed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud for the Ponzi scheme and one count of conspiracy in connection with a mortgage fraud scam.
He acknowledged his involvement in the mortgage fraud scam where at least 250 falsified loan applications were submitted through his brokerage firm, Countywide Financial — not to be confused with Calabasas-based Countrywide Home Loans, which was ordered in 2010 to pay $108 million for overcharging struggling homeowners and mishandling loans of borrowers in bankruptcy.
Vahedi reportedly confessed about some of his scams before an indictment had even been drafted, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Bowman said.
Vahedi's actions, he said, had a ripple effect on the community with a "devastating impact."
"One of the tragedies of this case… at the time we got involved, the money was gone," Bowman said.
FBI forensic investigators searched more than 70 accounts for the stolen money — which victims say is hidden somewhere because Vahedi reportedly talked about retiring with wealth.
"I was an easy prey for him," said 67-year-old Leesha Keller, who lost $347,215 in Vahedi's Ponzi scheme.
In court, she described how she cried day and night when Vahedi scammed her and left her penniless.
In a letter to the court, Vahedi apologized for his actions and to the people he harmed, adding that he was ashamed and humiliated. He said he was a changed man.
"My fate was sealed when I chose to cheat and take shortcuts," he wrote. "I was fooling so many people and instead, I was fooling myself. In my desire to succeed, I was dishonest, and people lost both their money and their faith in a process that was supposed to protect them as investors."
In court, however, he decided not to read from his prepared statement.
He explained to Pregerson that he was not a bad person.
"I was just being stupid," he said.
Still, Pregerson said he didn't believe Vahedi was sincere, and added that there was no reason to trust him.
He also ordered Vahedi to serve three years of supervised release.
Federal officials said Vahedi didn't just defraud strangers — he also scammed his parents.
Vahedi admitted pilfering more than $700,000 from his parents' bank account and taking out a home equity loan on his father's home.
He agreed to plead guilty to one count of bank fraud for scamming his parents.
Still, nearly a dozen of his friends and family as well as his parents submitted letters of support to the court. He reportedly completed a personal-growth program while in custody.
According to court documents filed by his attorney, Gilbert Geilim-Morales, Kaveh Vahedi's parents didn't want restitution from their son.
His 80-year-old father, Hossein Vahedi, said he didn't condone his son's actions, but he has forgiven him.
Still, Attorney Thomas Bourke, who is representing several of the Ponzi scheme victims, dismissed the letters from family members because he said they "lack credibility."
Some victims won more than $30 million in civil judgments against Kaveh Vahedi, his wife and members of his family, according to Bourke.
Kaveh Vahedi reportedly defrauded hundreds of victims in more than a decade, Bourke said in court documents. He reportedly let his real-estate license expire in 1998.
Bourke described Kaveh Vahedi as "a self-confident and charismatic narcissist, a chameleon who is an unscrupulous manipulator," according to court documents.
Kaveh Vahedi also reportedly created fake documents to show he had hundreds of millions of dollars, gave bribes for bogus tax forms and impersonated borrowers.