Santa Barbara Ponzi Schemer Sentenced to 11 Years In Prison

One Victim Lost More Than $9.7 Million to Darrell Aviss

A federal judge has sentenced Santa Barbara resident Darrell Aviss to just over 11 years in prison for operating a Ponzi scheme in which he stole approximately $14 million from victims who thought their investments were buying annuities from Swiss insurance companies.

Darrell Aviss during a 2008 TV interview on overseas investment strategies. | Credit: Courtesy (from file)

Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. described Aviss as “cruel, callous, and self-absorbed,” adding “the devastation in this case is real.” Most of his victims were elderly, and one lost more than $9.7 million to his ploy. Another, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer, lost $400,000, according to the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum.

“Aviss has essentially been living a life of pure crime for about a decade,” prosecutors said. “Based on the financial records and his statements to the probation officer, Aviss has had no source of money – no real job – since at least 2012, apart from the money he stole from the victims, including retirees who denied themselves luxuries to save up the nest eggs Aviss stole.”

Aviss ran his Ponzi scheme through the summer of 2020, soliciting money from people who wanted to purchase annuities from Swiss insurance companies. Aviss claimed the annuities were safe and secure, and, in some instances, he promised victims they would receive hefty returns of five to seven percent.

But Aviss would instead use the ill-gotten funds to support a lavish lifestyle, authorities said. Among other things, he spent the money on mortgage payments, luxury car leases, expensive watches, trips to Monaco, more than $170,000 in purchases at a Santa Barbara nightclub, and 20 tickets to a U2 concert and after-party. Meanwhile, he arranged for the victims to receive fabricated statements showing the purported value of the annuities, which the false documents showed were increasing over time.

Aviss ultimately pleaded guilty to 21 felonies: five counts of wire fraud, one count of money laundering, five counts of engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property, three counts of tax evasion, six counts of willful failure to report foreign bank and financial accounts, and one count of aggravated identity theft. He was ordered to pay $14.5 million in restitution and to forfeit his interest in a Santa Barbara home worth approximately $4 million.

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