Federal prosecutors in Portland say Kevin Thomas' name was phony, and so was his pitch: He told potential investors that he and a partner were going to convert the seeds of 5 million acres of trees in Ghana into oil that would be refined as biodiesel.
He promised a $50,000 investment would return $7,000 a month, and investors could withdraw their money at any time.
To top it off, the man who presented himself as a devout Christian told investors the project would be blessed, their investments a boon to the people of Ghana.
Prosecutors say the man was really Lloyd Benton Sharp, who was barred from selling securities in six states, including Oregon. Securities and Exchange Commission investigators had tracked him since 1984.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown sentenced the 79-year-old Sharp to five years in prison for bilking 14 investors of $1.4 million in the biodiesel scheme, The Oregonian reported (http://is.gd/ymgtsk).
Government prosecutors say Sharp and his alleged partner, Jack Holden, left a trail of victims. Sharp has agreed to pay more than $6 million in restitution for the biodiesel fraud and other schemes.
"He's a classic genius at what he does, but it's pure evil as far as I'm concerned," Cal Dean of suburban Portland told the court. Dean, 73, lost $125,000 in the biodiesel scam and another $50,000 in a Sharp-orchestrated swindle known as the International Tree Club.
"Because I am a Christian, I will pray for him" Dean said.
Holden's trial is set for Brown's courtroom in September.
Government prosecutors say Sharp fled pretrial supervision around this time last year.
"Sharp stole his friend Dewey Hayes' identity, dyed his hair black and travelled with his wife to California," prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo. "There, he obtained a California identification card and opened a bank account under his false identity."
He was arrested in June 2014 at a Costco in Henderson, Nevada, where he denied his true identity and presented police a phony Social Security number.
Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com