On Aug. 7, a California man pleaded guilty to fraud charges in federal court. The 61-year-old Sherman Oaks resident is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 15.

According to prosecutors, the defendant was the CEO of the Woodbridge Group of Companies and used his position to operate a $1.3 billion real estate Ponzi scheme between July 2012 and December 2017. During that time, he and his co-conspirators used high-pressure sales tactics to solicit funding from more than 9,000 investors, claiming the investments were low-risk. In return, the investors were given promissory notes that claimed to pay high monthly interest rates. However, they never received a return on their investments. Instead, the defendant used the money to purchase a long list of luxury items, including a $6.7 million home, $3.1 million in charter flights, $2.6 million in home renovations and various pieces of expensive art and jewelry. He also used $1.8 million of the money to pay his personal income taxes.

The defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and tax evasion. As part of a plea deal, he agreed to forfeit over 600 bottles of vintage wine, two black diamonds, a pair of white gold earrings, a 1969 Mercury convertible, paintings by Chagall, Picasso and Renoir, and other items. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

People who have been charged with criminal fraud could face decades in prison and steep fines if they are convicted. Given the stakes involved, many choose to retain a criminal defense attorney to protect their rights and combat the accusations. For example, some cases might have weak evidence that can be successfully challenged in court, causing the charges to be dropped.