Prison looms for New Canaan resident, hedge fund manager
Published 2:51 pm, Friday, November 23, 2012
In a life full of uncertainties, Francisco Illarramendi can be assured of one thing -- federal prison is looming in his future.
And it will come Jan. 25, either in the form of a sentence or a bond revocation.
Illaramendi, a multi-millionaire Stamford hedge fund manager, pleaded guilty March 7, 2011, to wire, securities and investment adviser fraud, as well as a conspiracy charge in connection with a massive Ponzi scheme, which cost investors, particularly Venezuelan pension fund investors, more than $500 million.
U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill made it clear Wednesday that Illarramendi is going to prison, even though the judge granted his request to change lawyers.
"I'm happy to give anybody as much time as they want to prepare for a sentencing," Underhill told Illarramendi, "provided it's not a vehicle to delay."
The judge then offered Illarramendi, 44, and the owner of the Michael Kenwood Capital Management Group in Stamford, the opportunity to "go into custody and spend as much time as you need."
That comment caught Illarramendi off guard. With his attention now captured, Illarramendi, a New Canaan resident, swung his head around to protest to his soon-to-be-replaced lawyer, Alex Hernandez, a former federal prosecutor who supervised the U.S. Attorney's Office in Bridgeport.
Moments earlier, Hernandez had asked Underhill to replace him, citing a conflict of interest and a breakdown in communications with his client.
That brought Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Murphy to his feet charging that this was another attempt by Illarramendi "to put off his sentencing as long as possible."
Documents filed in the case identify the Kenwood Group's Short Term Liquidity, Venezuela and Special Opportunities funds as having been used in the criminal activity. Three associates already pleaded guilty and were sentenced.
The investigation is ongoing, and focusing on Venezuelan officials and a former pension manager at government-owned Petroleos de Venzuela SA.
Previously, U.S. Attorney David Fein said "while the precise dollar losses will not be known for some time ... we believe this case represents the largest white-collar prosecution ever brought by this office."
Illarramendi is fighting his battles in two different federal courts. While the criminal case is pending before Underhill, U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton is presiding over a civil action brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC accused Illarramendi of illegally transferring $53 million in assets without prior shareholder approval.
The federal probe, with which Illaramendi cooperated, determined that he created fraudulent documents, including: a bogus debt instrument, a letter from an investment bank acknowledging a $30 million line of credit and a false asset verification letter. That letter claimed one of his funds had $275 million in assets stemming from loans owed by Venezuelan companies.
Last August, $793,117 of Illarramendi's assets, which included a $637,576 Connecticut tax refund, were frozen as part of the civil case. As a result, he said he could no longer afford a private lawyer.
On Wednesday, Underhill granted Illarramendi's latest request to change attorneys. The judge temporarily appointed Paul Thomas, an assistant U.S. public defender.
Thomas accepted the assignment short-term, but begged off long term, citing two lengthy criminal trials he is preparing to defend. Underhill said he would appoint another lawyer next week.
"On Jan. 25 at 10 a.m., we will either sentence you or take up the government's motion to revoke your bail," Underhill told Illarramendi.