A 63-year-old California man who claimed he had oil leases on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in order to defraud investors of millions was sentenced to federal prison last week.
Joseph Brent Loftis was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen to pay $7.8 million in restitution to investors and forfeit another $1.6 million.
His prison sentence, handed down in U.S. District Court in Missoula on Friday, is 82 months for his conviction on multiple counts of wire fraud and money laundering. Loftis appealed his original sentence, 97 months, to the U.S. Court of Appeals. That court sent the case back to the Montana District, resulting in Friday's sentence.
Loftis was convicted by a jury in 2018, three years after he was indicted. Prosecutors presented evidence he had solicited $3 million from investors while representing himself as an oil lease holder on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. He also claimed to own oil and gas leases in Oklahoma and Texas, although the purchase agreement on those leases had fallen through, according to prosecutors.
One investor he met over match.com, married and then solicited from her more than $150,000, according to court records. In the meantime, he dined twice with another woman while giving the impression that he was single. As Loftis sent her a "series of romantically charged letters and emails," the woman gave him more than $50,000.
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Investigators from the FBI and IRS found Loftis would initially give investors returns of about $1,000 for a few months before cutting off payments. When they confronted him, Loftis would give excuses about ownership or drilling issues, according to court records.
Loftis later obtained another $1.9 million loan in order to continue his business until he could complete a "reverse merger" to bring his shell company, Prism, into the public markets, according to prosecutors. They said he instead spent the money on a luxury RV and other personal expenses.
Prosecutors sought a nearly 20-year prison sentence for Loftis, arguing his past prison time — he had been involved in criminal activity for almost 30 years — had done nothing to deter his conduct. Even while on release ahead of trial in this case, prosecutors found he had conducted further criminal fraudulent activity.
"The scheme to defraud perpetrated by Loftis is a testament to the devastation an individual can wreak on his victims through a wholesale disregard for the truth and ability to create trust in others," Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Spraker wrote in his sentencing memorandum. "The sanctity of the truth and the trust that holds all human relationships together was violated over and over again by the defendant."