Ottumwa man gets more than 7 years for Ponzi scheme
DES MOINES — An Ottumwa man who took nearly $1 million from friends and neighbors and promised to invest it was sentenced to more than seven years in federal prison Thursday after pleading guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion.
John Holtsinger, 52, a former softball coach who claimed to be an investment adviser but lacked the required licenses to legally invest others’ money, left many of the people who trusted him financially devastated, court documents said.
Two of the victims spoke at his sentencing in U.S. District Court in Des Moines.
“If I stay out of bankruptcy it will be a miracle,” said Glenn “Irv” Graver, 64, who runs a roofing business. “I’ll be working now until I die because of him.”
He said he considered Holtsinger one of his best friends.
Joan Stiffler, a retired dental assistant, said her son introduced her to Holtsinger and she was very impressed by him and trusted him. But the loss of her money forced her to sell a home, and her only income now is from Social Security.
“John has left me very financially strapped,” she said. “I have no idea why he would choose to do the things he has done.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Locher said Holtsinger convinced friends and neighbors to turn over their entire life savings to him.
Instead of investing the money, he used most of it to pay living expenses, take trips and access online dating sites. The scam ran from 2009 to early 2012, court documents said.
Holtsinger’s attorney, Timothy Ross-Boon, sought a sentence of closer to four years. He said Holtsinger came forward soon after he was indicted and has promised to help the Internal Revenue Service figure out how much he owes in taxes and to do everything within his power to repay the restitution ordered by the court.
Ross-Boon also said Holtsinger has struggled with alcoholism and that “played a part in the lack of better judgment on his part that led to some of the behavior.”
Holtsinger pleaded guilty in October to wire fraud and tax evasion as part of a deal with prosecutors in which other charges of money laundering and securities offenses were dropped. He declined to speak on his own behalf when given the chance at the sentencing hearing.
Along with 87 months in prison, Judge John Jarvey ordered Holtsinger to pay $948,239 in restitution. He also said Holtsinger will have to serve a five-year sentence for third-offense drunken driving after his fraud and tax evasion sentence ends.
Holtsinger had asked to serve both sentences at the same time.
In issuing the sentence, Jarvey cited the seriousness of the crime, the number of people affected and the way Holtsinger worked to gain his victims’ trust and friendship.
“I suspect that is exactly how guys like you are successful at taking money from people,” the judge said.
Graver said Holtsinger told him that he’d be sent to a federal country club for a few years. But Jarvey assured the victims that Holtsinger’s sentence would not be easy.
“If anybody thinks it’s some sort of easy wonderful time, it’s not,” Jarvey said.
Iowa’s insurance commissioner, who enforces state securities laws, found in October 2011 that Holtsinger sold unregistered securities and conducted business without a registering as an agent.
He was ordered to stop and to pay a $15,000 civil penalty.