The owner of a commercial financing partnership in Ocean Springs, Thomas "Lenny" Lepre, insisted in federal court Thursday that he might be able to recoup and repay more than $504,369 he stole from clients if he could serve a prison sentence under house arrest.
U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden wasn't buying it. Ozerden on Wednesday sentenced Lepre to two years in prison — three months shy of the maximum — after the 63-year-old pleaded guilty to one charge of wire fraud. Federal prosecutors dropped four other wire-fraud charges in exchange for the plea.
From December 2012 to January 2014, Lepre defrauded clients through Allied Financing Group. He attracted clients by promising them favorable returns on money they invested for loans to individuals unable to secure traditional financing.
Umesh Maharaj, a 56-year-old building inspector, was one of those clients. He flew from California to testify at Lepre's sentencing hearing.
The building inspector said, "He systematically drew me into this and took all my funds — in excess of $420,000. He is a very smart, smooth talker."
Maharaj said he was "lured in" by Lepre. "He promised me these funds were in an escrow account nobody could touch and I trusted him as my financial adviser.
" . . . I can sincerely say that he single-handedly destroyed my family."
Maharaj said the money was supposed to go to his son, who was about to marry and buy a house. Maharaj and his wife almost divorced over the financial disaster, he said. His son is no longer speaking to him.
Lepre must pay restitution to seven victims. The $504,369 represents only the amount he took from victims and personally kept. Maharaj, for example, is supposed to receive $177,976 in restitution.
His attorney, Albert Pettigrew, has filed a civil lawsuit in Harrison County Chancery Court to try and recover the rest of Maharaj's money.