Letters from victims of financial crime to sentencing judges do make a difference. A federal judge refused Tuesday, for a second time, to go along with the government’s deal of five years in prison for a man who claimed he negotiated big ticket music deals.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup warned the government and defense he thought the five years was too little for Michael S. Banuelos, who called himself “Ferrari Mike.” Last week Alsup said he was set to hand Banuelos a seven-year term, but on Tuesday he said he would come down to six and one-half, but not as low as five.
Banuelos defrauded multiple investors of over $2 million in three years. He told his victims he was a “player in the music business” and had a professional relationship with megastar Ludacris, that he could promote a young artist to stardom and investors stood to make huge profits on a record contract. He claimed to be negotiating for a $13 million deal with Def Jam Records and even held conference calls in which imposters pretended to be executives from Def Jam.
He used the money for luxury cars, private jets, country club memberships and expensive clothing, according to the government.
Alsup said if he imposed a term over the plea bargained amount, it would be only the third time in 14 years he has done so. But some cases merit it, he said.
“You submitted a pile of victim statements and you want me to go back on that?” Alsup asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Sprague. “I read them all,” Alsup said adding they didn’t paint a pretty picture of Banuelos.
Sprague said he stood by the plea deal because Banuelos had agreed to a guilty plea early, saving the government the time and cost of a trial. The victim letters came in after the deal was struck, but he said the term is the upper end of the Sentencing Guideline recommendations.
Alsup wasn’t buying it, or the pleas from Banuelos’ 20-year-old son or father, as well as Banuelos’ tearful plea for a lighter term.
“In a nutshell, Mr. Banuelos has shown he is a pathological liar and I can’t see any redeeming features. I think he is a danger to society, swindling other people of their money so he could live in a chateau, driving a fancy car and drinking,” Alsup said.
He offered to go along with the government if Sprague could show that the government would have a tough time proving its case and that five years is the best deal it could get. Sprague declined.
Now it’s up to Banuelos. Alsup gave him one more week to decide whether he will accept a six and one-half year prison term or go to trial. They will be back in court next week.
Case: U.S. v. Banuelos, CR12-561WHA