As guards brought former 1Point Solutions CEO Barry Stokes down the the 8th floor corridor of Nashville's federal courthouse this morning, he noted a scale model of the replacement courthouse that the feds have had on the drawing board for some years now. Stokes wondered aloud when the long-delayed structure would be built.
"You'll probably be out of prison by the time they break ground," one of his escorts sarcastically remarked.
To which Stokes replied, in apparent sincerity: "I'll be out by midnight."
U.S. District Judge Robert Echols this evening proved Stokes prescient, if not entirely accurate. Turning aside prosecution pleas for a sentence of nearly 22 years, Echols sentenced the admitted fraud artist to 12 and a half years in a federal penitentiary for engaging in a five-year scheme that drained some $19 million from the retirement savings accounts of thousands of people.
The judge also ordered Stokes to pay almost $20 million in restitution.
Echols cited the fact that Stokes had cooperated with investigators, his health problems and the fact that he had no prior criminal history as reasons for a downward departure in his sentence.
The sentencing came at the end of a day of vivid testimony about the once high-flying entrepreneur from Dickson. At one point, prosecutors introduced into evidence an e-mail Stokes had sent to his personal psychic, Gale Carrier, describing his ritual of arranging purple candles in a circle, throwing kosher salt over his shoulder and stabbing dolls – all to keep his creditor-enemies at bay.
An apologetic Stokes addressed the court late this afternoon, telling the judge and the assembled victims: "I lost my purpose. I couldn't find true north." He then spoke of how he had "stepped up to the plate" since his arrest to try to mitigate the damage done.
He said he wanted to be freed as soon as possible so he can earn money to make restitution to his victims. He said he envisions a career of speaking engagements, educational activities and community service to help people avoid financial fraud.
In closing arguments, defense counsel Paul Bruno cited a list of sentences handed down to other white-collar criminals in recent years to argue that Stokes should not be treated too harshly. The lawyer asked the court to impose a sentence of 60 months. Stokes has already served more than half that amount of time.
Echols, eying the list of cases that drew relatively mild sentences, interjected: "I didn't see Madoff's." Mega-fraudster Bernie Madoff, of course, is serving a 150-year sentence.
Numerous victims of the 1Point swindle took the stand earlier in the day. A number of them told of losing their retirement funds entirely, with one woman estimating that the life savings Stokes took from her was worth about as much as one of the more than 1,000 Japanese woodblock prints he purchased for himself.
Another woman, addressing Stokes' plea to get credit on his sentence for the assistance he has given prosecutors in sorting out his affairs, stated: "This experience has been like a rape, and anything he did to help out after the fact is no better than putting the clothes back on the victim."
Defense attorneys Bruno and David Baker tried to establish that mental illness had played a role in Stokes' conduct, calling forensic psychiatrist Keith Caruso of Brentwood to testify that he had diagnosed Stokes as having bipolar disorder.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ty E. Howard, cross-examining Caruso, pressed him on whether the disease meant that Stokes was "preordained" to do what he did. The physician conceded that he was not.
Character witnesses for Stokes testified that he was deeply devoted to the three foster children he and his former wife raised for six years. Stokes had argued in a pre-sentencing memorandum that defeat in a custody battle with the biological mother of the children caused him to "lose his moral compass."
One of those witnesses, private investigator Ernest Rice, described the change in Stokes' character succinctly. "I don't know the Barry Stokes who is here today," he told the court. "I feel like I'm at a funeral."