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Broker enters plea agreement in fraud case

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Sirls

The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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A former Wachovia Securities broker who started a stock and real-estate investment scam to help him emerge from gambling and stock-market debt entered into a plea agreement yesterday in U.S. District Court in Toledo.

William Sirls, 43, of Grosse Ile, Mich., pleaded guilty to one count each of mail fraud and money laundering. Although the charges carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and more than $34 million in fines, the agreement suggests 46 to 57 months behind bars. Judge Jack Zouhary has not set a sentencing date.

Investigators said Sirls, who was a branch manager and vice president of the brokerage firm's now-closed West Toledo office, created an assortment of fraudulent investment offerings to lure about 45 investors into a Ponzi-like scheme. His brother, who lives in California, was among those who invested.

From January, 2000, until about September, 2006, Sirls defrauded clients, co-workers, and others to obtain between $17 million and $40 million. The money went to pay for his own losses in the stock market and to fund his gambling addiction, Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Uram said.

"He experienced large personal losses in Wachovia stock trading, and he compounded those losses in sports and off-shore gambling," Mr. Uram said.

Sirls remained free on bond yesterday while a sentencing report is completed. As part of restitution in the case, he must forfeit his property, including his home and vehicle. He declined to comment after the hearing.

Defense attorney Steve Hartman said his client was unlike many charged with similar crimes because Sirls turned himself in before an investigation was even under way. Mr. Hartman said his client realized the scheme was becoming uncontrollable and wanted to bring it to an end.

"He didn't want to carry this on any more," he said, adding that the agreement was "fair."

During the period when he was bilking investors, Sirls obtained about $31 million.

Because he was using money obtained from later investors to pay earlier ones, he returned about $21 million, making the actual total loss to investors about $10 million, Mr. Uram said. He said because of Sirls' cooperation, he felt the agreement offered a modest reduction in the sentence.

"We want to encourage others to do the same thing," Mr. Uram said.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.

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