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Published: Saturday, 12/11/2004

Frankel gets 16 years for fraud

BY LINDSEY MERGENER
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE
Marty Frankel (left) is led into court before being sentenced for his role in a multimillion-dollar insurance fraud scheme. Marty Frankel (left) is led into court before being sentenced for his role in a multimillion-dollar insurance fraud scheme.
STEVE MILLER / ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Former Toledoan Marty Frankel was sentenced in federal court here yesterday to more than 16 years in prison for his role in masterminding a multimilliondollar insurance fraud scheme.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Bree Burns called Frankel's crime spree "a very serious affair" that damaged numerous lives.

"The court has an obligation to these people," she said before sentencing him to 200 months in prison. He will have to serve at least 85 percent of that time before being eligible for parole and will get credit for time he has served since March, 2001. After his term ends, he will be under supervised release for three years.

Frankel, 50, wearing khaki pants and an oversized denim coat, appeared calm throughout the proceedings. At times he smiled and whispered to his attorney, William Koch.

When given the opportunity to speak on his own behalf, he gave a rambling statement for about 45 minutes, often interrupted by the judge. He claimed he hatched the plan to help people, especially the children of his former fiancee and business partner, Sonia Howe, and said he was not really the criminal mastermind the prosecution portrayed him as.

"Once you start something, how can you stop?" he asked, adding that "at the time, I didn't think it was wrong."

U.S. Attorney Kevin J. O'Connor said that despite Frankel's insistence that he was sorry, he should be held responsible for his actions.

"Whatever he feels today, he's $200 million and 15 years too late," Mr. O'Connor said.

Frankel pleaded guilty in 2002 to 24 counts of wire fraud, conspiracy, and securities fraud. Authorities said that in the

1990s, he bought several small insurance companies in Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas and stole $200 million of their assets to finance a wealthy and bizarre lifestyle.

As Frankel's ring of deception unraveled, charges were brought against several defendants, including a former New York prosecutor. Before Frankel's sentencing, a dozen people involved in his scheme had been sentenced. Some were sent to prison for a total of nearly 40 years, while others were fined or placed on probation.

Among those sentenced were Howe, a former Woodmore High School drum majorette from Toledo, and Monsignor Emilio Colagiovanni of Rome.

Three other defendants are scheduled to be sentenced early next year, while one of Frankel's former girlfriends remains at-large and is sought by authorities.

One of four children from a middle-class Toledo family, Frankel attended Whitmer High School. He began purchasing struggling insurance companies in the 1990s, authorities said, using shell businesses, front men, and phantom investment reports to hide his schemes. He used the assets the insurance companies set aside for potential future claims to buy up bigger companies.

He got away with it for a while, living in luxury before he was caught. Frankel spent some of his ill-gotten fortune on a staff that included a private chef, personal driver, and bodyguards.

He also met women through personal ads. One woman who described herself as a "sex slave" testified she investigated adoption options for Frankel to satisfy his alleged desire to have sex with a child.

In an attempt to hide his dealings, Frankel tried to set up a bogus foundation that would have laundered money through the Holy See.

When he discovered that authorities were becoming suspicious, Frankel fled the country in early 1999. On May 5 of that year, firefighters found a burning file cabinet at the multimillion-dollar estate in Greenwich, Conn., that Frankel had bought and abandoned.

Fueling the crime story that later would become the subject of two books, dozens of newspaper articles, and a Court TV documentary, he sparked an international manhunt. On Sept. 4, 1999, German police arrested him in a Hamburg hotel suite with a female companion, a dozen passports - each with Frankel's photograph and a different name - and hundreds of diamonds.

More than 800 of Frankel's diamonds were auctioned Wednesday and Thursday at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan in an effort to recover some of the millions of dollars that state insurance guaranty funds had to pay out to cover the money lost to Frankel.

Court-appointed state insurance regulators for the five states will use proceeds from the diamond sale to pay policyholders' and creditors' claims against the seven insurance companies.

In addition to the nearly $9 million brought in at the two-day auction, more than a quarter of the $200 million lost to Frankel has been recouped, in part by the sale of his two Greenwich, Conn., mansions, 21 luxury vehicles, and a 1995 Aero Commander 114TC plane, which was registered to one of Frankel's co-defendants.

Frankel's plot spanned continents.

In September, Monsignor Colagiovanni was fined after pleading guilty three years ago to falsely vouching for Frankel's identity.

Frankel told the monsignor and other high-ranking Vatican officials that he would set up a charitable fund and place $55 million in it; the Vatican would be able to take $5 million for the charities it saw fit.

Monsignor Colagiovanni, the head of the Monitor Ecclesiasticus, a publication that interprets church law and disburses money to charities, was among the last of about a dozen defendants to be sentenced in the federal case filed in 1999.

The Vatican has denied it accepted any of Frankel's ill-gotten funds, and only Monsignor Colagiovanni has been convicted.

Mr. Koch asked for a 10-year sentence for Frankel, citing the man's cooperation with authorities as well as evidence presented by psychologists that Frankel is mentally ill.

Judge Burns said she took the second point into consideration but that Frankel was capable of understanding his actions were wrong.



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