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A former football player and Merrill Lynch advisor has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for a $10 million fraud scheme, according to a report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The criminal behavior of Merrill Robertson Jr., 39, cost 63 investors — many who knew him personally — some $9 million.

A jury convicted Robertson in October for conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering, the news report said. The former linebacker — who played briefly for the Philadelphia Eagles and also for the University of Virginia — targeted family, friends, coaches, teammates, churchgoers and a Sunday school teacher.

The SEC took action against Robertson in 2016, about seven years after he had trained and become a Merrill Lynch advisor for about 18 months in Richmond, his BrokerCheck records show.  

The term of 40 years, given by U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr., was much longer than the 24-year maximum of federal sentencing guidelines. 

The judge cited the egregiousness of the crimes and their lifelong impact on the victims, as well as Robertson‘s use of religion to fleece clients. “He prayed with people before he took their money,” said Gibney, as quoted in the news report. “That’s a way of getting somebody’s confidence … that goes beyond the pale.”

Fraud Structure

Robertson and Sherman Carl Vaughn, 48, managed their Ponzi scheme through Cavalier Union Investment and Black Bull Wealth Management from 2008 to 2016, the Richmond paper said, focusing on sales of private funds and other investments after Robertson had left Merrill Lynch.

The SEC said in its complaint that the pair “promised to invest in diversified holdings but diverted nearly $6 million of the more than $10 million they raised from investors to pay for personal expenses and used other funds to repay earlier investors.”

Robertson and Vaughn told investors that the unregistered debt securities they sold had returns of up to 20% and were safe investment products. According to the complaint, the defendants said Cavalier’s funds were led by experienced investment advisers, though the firm did not have any funds or investment advisers and was largely insolvent. 

The SEC also said Cavalier’s only investments were in restaurants, which all failed by 2014 — facts not disclosed to investors and prospects, including many individuals Robertson met while attending L.C. Bird High School and Fork Union Military Academy

At the recent trial, Vaughn said the duo targeted retirement savings, while Robertson described getting individuals to take out loans. Much of the proceeds left victims “without retirement savings and also in debt with wrecked credit ratings,” the news report explained.

Danny Wilmer, the football coach who recruited Robertson for UVA, lost some $500,000 and had a stroke. “I’ve lost about everything, your honor,” he said, according to the paper. “I worked hard for my money all my life.”

— Check out Ex-NFL Player Found Guilty of Defrauding Investors in Second Trial on ThinkAdvisor.