A Las Vegas gambler linked to golfer Phil Mickelson was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison by a judge who said the businessman collected tens of millions of dollars illegally in the stock market to seem like "a winner" to himself and others.
U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel rejected the recommendation of probation officials and a lawyer for William "Billy" Walters that he serve only a year in prison, but still imposed a sentence less than the minimum of eight years called for by federal sentencing guidelines. He also fined him $10 million.
"When it comes to the stock market, Billy Walters is a cheater and a criminal and not a very clever one," Castel said, calling the crime "amateurishly simple."
He noted Walters was a minor celebrity in Las Vegas with a private plane, a $17 million West Coast home and $175 million in earnings from 2011 to 2015.
The judge said Walters looked to elevate himself when he befriended former Dallas-based Dean Foods Co. board chairman Thomas Davis, getting him to divulge secrets he then traded on.
Castel said Walters was "fixated on appearing to himself and others to be a winner."
"Money was a way of keeping score," Castel said.
Prosecutors said Walters began trading in 2006 on secrets Davis told him about the nation's largest processor and distributor of fresh milk, amassing over $40 million in illegal profits through 2014. Davis, who pleaded guilty to charges, testified against Walters at an April trial. He awaits sentencing.
Mickelson was not mentioned by name during the sentencing, though the judge alluded to him as he described how Walters drew others into his corruption.
The government said Mickelson earned nearly $1 million after Walters told him to buy Dean Foods stock in 2012, profits Mickelson gave Walters to cover gambling debts. The Securities and Exchange Commission cited Mickelson for the trades in a lawsuit, and Mickelson agreed to repay the money. Mickelson was not charged.
Castel noted "large and splashy displays of philanthropy" by Walters — some likely funded by his crimes — and said he credited him for quiet, under-the-radar gifts that "say something about the man's character."
Those included paying medical school costs and buying a car for a student whose car broke down, funding a family vacation and salary for a young employee while his wife was dying and helping another acquaintance make it to his father's funeral in Romania.
Given the opportunity to speak, Walters barely said anything beyond thanking the judge for reading everything submitted on his behalf.
After being sentenced, a smiling Walters hugged his wife and others while politely declining comment as he left court. He was told to report to prison Oct. 10.
In a release, U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said Walters cheated his way to profits through massive, perfectly timed trades.
"Making millions in the stock market with a deck stacked in your favor leads to time in a federal penitentiary," he said.