As the stock market began to tank a couple years ago, hundreds of people bought into a Minneapolis money manager's sales pitch and thought their investments would be safe with him.
But Trevor Cook spent their money on his lavish lifestyle instead of investing it. And although Cook got caught and on Tuesday was sentenced to a 25-year prison term -- the maximum allowed for his crimes under federal law -- those who once trusted him with their money will likely never see much of it ever again.
"The odds of getting it back probably aren't very good, so we think in the end we'll probably get back just pennies on the dollar," said Mike Patterson, an investor from Walford, Iowa.
Patterson and his wife Mary were among several victims who attended Cook's sentencing. Six of them, including Mary Patterson, spoke before the judge to urge a harsh sentence.
"Trevor Cook stole from my husband and myself almost all the money we'd saved for retirement," Patterson said. "Trevor Cook has sentenced many of us to life of poverty, while when he gets out of prison he will still be younger than many of the people he stole from."
Cook, 38, of Apple Valley, pleaded guilty in April to one count of mail fraud and one count of tax evasion.
His attorney had argued Cook should receive 20 years in prison, but U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum sided with prosecutors and victims on Tuesday and handed down the longest sentence allowed.
"This was a wretched, tawdry, cheap crime," Rosenbaum said. "You showed no respect for anybody but perhaps yourself. You knew very well what you were doing. You found vulnerable victims and lied to them repeatedly."
Some victims still hope authorities can recover some of their money.
"A lot of us believe he's hiding a lot of money overseas. A lot of money came in in 2008 and we don't think he's had the time to spend it," said Ken Locklin, an investor from Fredicksburg, Texas. Locklin will have to compete with more than 900 others for authorities' attention. That's how many victims were identified in the case. According to court documents, Cook's scheme might have defrauded them out of as much as $190 million.
Cook's attorney, William Mauzy, left the courthouse without commenting to reporters.
From January 2007 through July 2009, Cook told investors he was selling investments in a foreign currency trading program. Instead, he was diverting much of the money and using it both to pay previous investors and continue the scheme.
According to court documents, Cook provided funds to deceive Swiss banking regulators and paid to have an ownership interest in two trading companies.
Authorities said Cook also used the money to buy real estate in Panama, pay off gambling debts and acquire the Van Dusen mansion in Minneapolis.
Cook promised investors they would see returns of 10 to 12 percent, but authorities say he sent them statements containing false information.
In a written statement released by federal prosecutors, Julio La Rosa, special agent in charge of criminal investigations for the Internal Revenue Service, warned others to protect themselves from schemes like Cook's.
Ponzi schemes involve taking people's money and using it to pay off earlier investors.
"Although the economics of Ponzi schemes are simple, contemporary swindlers conceal this fact with sophisticated marketing," La Rosa said. "Go beyond the sales pitch and personality to find the truth behind the numbers."