DENVER -- A former LDS bishop in Colorado pleaded guilty to cheating at least 67 investors out of more than $20 million.
In a federal courtroom last week, Shawn Merriman, the man behind the Ponzi scheme spanning 14 years, received the maximum sentence of 12 and a half years behind bars and $20.1 million in restitution. He'll also serve three years probation once out of prison.
Since the early 1990s, Merriman told his victims they were getting annual returns of 7 to 20 percent from stock market investments.
However, in 2009, the Aurora man admitted he was spending the money on himself, rather than investing it in the stock market.
Merriman lived in a million dollar home in Aurora where in 2009, federal agents seized his assets including a new motor home, a classic car collection, boats and motorcycles. The U.S. government will now have to auction off those items to try and recover money for Merriman's victims.
Most of his victims were fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, friends of friends, or fellow hobbyists.
"I even count my change at McDonald's because I don't trust any more," Todd McCann, one of Merriman's victims, said.
McCann described how generations of his family lost money investing with Merriman's company, Market Street Advisors, and ended his statement saying, "Shawn, I hope you burn in hell."
Five other victims spoke directly to Judge Marcia Krieger and Merriman during the sentencing hearing detailing how they put trust and confidence in Merriman to make financial decisions for them.
Merriman spoke for himself as well, trying to plead with the judge that his cooperation with authorities should grant him a lighter sentence. He and his attorney argued for a five-year prison term.
"I didn't start my investment company with malicious intent," Merriman said. "Since turning myself in, I did everything I could to maximize the return for my investors."
Merriman has lost his wife, his home, and has been excommunicated from the LDS Church.
"I know saying I'm sorry doesn't make things right," he said. "Each of my investors is a great person who doesn't deserve what I did to them."