A former La Mesa commodities broker suspected of bilking hundreds of San Diego County investors and others of millions of dollars over the last two decades--while assuming at least four distinct identities--was ordered held without bail Thursday by a federal magistrate in San Diego.
Bernard Striar, 61, also known at the La Mesa firm of D&B; Associates as Eldean (Don) Erickson, is charged with one count of scheming to defraud investors. Other charges are expected to be filed by federal authorities.
In an unusual turn, Magistrate Irma Gonzalez ordered Striar held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center after Striar said he agreed with an assistant U.S. attorney's argument that Striar would pose a danger to the community if released.
A lawyer who appeared with Striar Thursday said Striar expected to die in prison.
"His spirit is totally broken," attorney Carl Yaeckel told reporters after the hearing. "He's totally passive now. He's all alone, with no interest in what's going on. He said he wants it to be all over and go to prison."
According to a spokesman for the San Diego office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Striar, a New York native, is suspected of being a confidence man who assumed identities in San Francisco, Ann Arbor, Mich., Omaha and San Diego after abandoning his first identity in 1965.
FBI spokesman Gary Laturno said Striar's La Mesa scheme--thought to be the biggest and longest-lasting of his life--began in 1975, when he came to the San Diego area and took a part-time job as an accountant. Within four years, Striar had started his own investment firm, attracting hundreds of investors with promises of annual returns as high as 60%.
"He's an amazing man," Laturno said. "He has operated for 40 years in the white-collar crime area. He is extremely successful."
When Striar fled La Mesa in March, law enforcement officials said they believed he had taken his firm's $10 million in assets with him. That figure now appears to be inflated, because much of the profits listed on Striar's books apparently never existed.
FBI agent Robert Martin testified that Striar fled after he learned that his firm was about to be audited.
Martin said Striar took $25,000 to $30,000 with him and went to Chicago, Washington and Pittsburgh before settling in Cincinnati. Of the money he took with him, Striar spent all but $400, Martin said.
Striar was arrested in Cincinnati Jan. 7 after applying for a job. A worker at an employment agency recognized him from a picture on one of the more than 30,000 flyers describing Striar distributed by the FBI earlier this month.
Gonzalez told Striar that denying bail would ensure his appearance at further federal court proceedings.
"For the past 20 years, you have been going from place to place, with different names . . . . You are very adept at fleeing," Gonzalez told him.