Her eyes streaming tears, Cynthia O’Tyson was quickly led out of a Superior Courtroom Thursday to begin serving a 60-year prison sentence for an extensive Ponzi scheme in which she scammed friends, relatives, TV station employees and even local judges into buying cheap electronics.
Several of the 38 victims authorities have managed to identify as having been scammed by the 45-year-old O’Tyson sat watching her dab her eyes with a tissue as Judge James G. Blanchard handed down the sentence and ordered her to repay $242, 444 in restitution upon her release. Dozens, or perhaps hundreds more, who fell victim to her scheme were denied the satisfaction of watching her taken into custody and will not regain their lost income. Some, like Judge J. David Roper and Judge Mike Annis, whose family bought items from O’Tyson, weren’t present either.
“Ms. O’Tyson, it’s obvious to me you are a thief . . . and a threat to society,” Blanchard said before handing down the sentence on 38 counts of theft-by-taking.
Starting in 2007, O’Tyson began telling others she could obtain normally expensive electronic items, such as flat-screen TV’s, well below their value from a business partner in Atlanta.
She used people in her church and the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, where she served, to solicit orders for her falsified company, Wholesale Liquidators. In truth, O’Tyson was buying the items at Best Buy or HHGregg with other investors’ dollars. She would meet them anywhere she could – at home, at the bank or often in the parking lot of Fatz Café in Evans, to exchange hundreds and thousands of dollars. For a time, the chamber even promoted her as a viable local business. She’d often hang flyers up in local barbershops to entice more buyers.
O’Tyson delivered the electronics to the early buyers to keep up the appearance of her outfit, but later investors never received their purchases.
“It’s the subsequent waves of people that ended up being left out in the cold,” said Richmond County Assistant District Attorney Rex Myers.
In one particularly striking example of the lengths she went to, O’Tyson filled an order at Bob Richards Chevrolet from an employee in the automobile shop, only to make “open call” to the other employees that she was taking orders before leaving. O’Tyson ended up, “. . . leaving the business with essentially a pocketful of money,” Myers said.
At her turn to speak, O’Tyson admitted her guilt and blamed her deception on a need to be accepted by others. Her attorney, public defender Hugh Hadden, said O’Tyson had been treated while in jail for a mental disorder that demanded she seek approval from others. The attention she was receiving from prominent people in the community fed into her scheme, he said.
“My activities in 2007, I am ashamed and embarrassed of what I’ve done to people I cared about,” O’Tyson said. “I no longer have to be that person to accept people’s acceptance and approval.”
But it was her extensive history of theft and deception that seemed to influence Blanchard.
O’Tyson was sentenced to 30-years for first-degree financial transaction card fraud in 1999. She was released in 2002. Before this, she had been in court in 1985 for felony theft by deception and sentenced to 10-years probation; then in 1989 she was sentenced to another 10-years probation for felony theft by taking and ordered to pay $3,079 in restitution. She was also charged with misdemeanor deposit account fraud in 1990.
“It’s obvious that a 30-year sentence didn’t get your attention,” said Blanchard as he gave her sentence. “Let’s see a 60-year sentence does.”
Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.