DETROIT — A Detroit-area investment manager was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison today for a real-estate scheme that crashed during the recession and caused losses of more than $40 million.
John Bravata remained defiant before he got his punishment. He said he understood the pain of investors but insisted he committed no fraud and blamed the government for the collapse of Southfield-based BBC Equities.
“I never intended to hurt a single person,” Bravata, 44, of Brighton told U.S. District Judge Paul Borman.
“Did we make mistakes? Maybe. Did we grow too fast? Maybe,” he said. “Did I steal these peoples’ money? I did not.”
Bravata, a successful insurance salesman in an earlier career, was convicted of fraud and conspiracy in March. Prosecutors said he misled people about the safety of their money and especially preyed on those 55 and older who had lump sums to invest. More than 400 investors had been promised steady interest payments.
At the start of a long hearing, Borman heard from six investors, including Patricia Philliben, 63, of Milford, who lost more than $600,000. She said she had “scrimped and saved” for a comfortable retirement and even helped send her nephews to college. Not anymore.
Philliben said she’s been “lied to, take advantage of and humiliated beyond belief.”
Carmen Cassar, 81, of Redford was supported by her daughter as she stood at the microphone to talk about her losses, which she didn’t specify. She said she and her husband arrived in the United States from Malta in 1957 to give their children the “American dream.”
“I am a dedicated Catholic woman,” Cassar said, her voice rising and breaking, “but I cannot forgive John Bravata.”
Bravata got a long single sentence for more than a dozen crimes, but he also got a break of sorts. Prosecutors wanted him to serve some sentences for the many crimes one at a time, which could have put him away for life. Borman declined.
Bravata “lied to people to get their money and lied to people to keep their money,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Reynolds said.
Borman said Bravata seemed to blame everyone but himself.
“This isn’t a scheme gone bad. This started with bad intentions and stayed bad,” the judge told Bravata.
The government says Bravata and partner R.J. Trabulsy spent millions on luxury homes, boats, jewelry, vacations and expensive cars for themselves and others. Trabulsy pleaded guilty and awaits his sentence.
Bravata complained that many investors who don’t blame him weren’t allowed to testify at trial. He said BBC Equities would have recovered as the economy improved but the “government has destroyed” it. Many properties were sold or abandoned by a court-appointed receiver after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission stepped in with a civil lawsuit in 2009 ahead of the criminal case.
Bravata will get credit for more than two years in prison while awaiting trial.