Thief met match in poker pal

Friend provided proof of scam for federal case

When Walter Marion Williams drove away from Bill Boston's Ocala, Fla., home in 2005, he left with a check for $150,000.

Eventually, Williams would have reason to wish he had left the money in Florida.

On Wednesday, Williams, a local insurance agent, pleaded guilty in federal court to charges that he defrauded at least 16 people out of nearly $2 million. He faces up to 20 years in prison and it's highly likely that he will be required to make restitution to his victims.

Since 1992, William embezzled money from his friends, family and longtime customers by playing upon trust.

He promised them security in their old age -- or hefty returns on their investments -- and the victims handed over hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For 17 years, his scam worked well. He had a home in Westlake, money to pay the bills and cash for gambling.

His deal with Boston ended all of that.

The two men met in Las Vegas at the World Series of Poker. Both men were well-known in the small community of gamblers. Boston authored Omaha High-Low, a book that explains the odds associated with poker hands. He found Williams outgoing and fun to be around.

"He makes friends with everybody and everybody knows him," Boston said. "He knows a lot of people at these events."

The two had dinner together on at least one occasion, and while they weren't the best of friends, Boston said he trusted Williams when he was offered a chance to invest with Williams' company.

Boston, who spoke Wednesday from his home in Ocala, Fla., said Williams visited his house in July 2005 to go over the proposal.

The plan, he was told, was to purchase terminally ill people's insurance policies. The policy-holders needed cash, he recalls Williams saying, and when they passed away the insurance could guarantee investors a good return on their money.

Boston, a real estate investor, did his due diligence. He checked with the Better Business Bureau and looked up Williams' business. That, and their friendly relationship, satisfied his initial skepticism.

Boston wrote Williams a check.

"He told me he had $5 million invested in it himself," Boston said.

A few days later, when he received an investment packet from Williams in the mail, Boston knew something was wrong. The contract included in the packet "looked like something that you download off the Internet," Boston said.

It didn't take him long to find the very same contract online. And while he thought he had invested his money with Williams' company, his research indicated it had been sent to a Canadian business, Universal Settlements International Inc. in Ontario.

This was not part of their agreement so Boston contacted the company and soon learned his money wasn't where it was supposed to be.

"They informed me that they had not received my $150,000 and that I should contact him," Boston said.

Boston began demanding his money. And for a time, Williams paid.

In payments of several thousand dollars at a time, Williams would eventually return $120,000 of Boston's initial investment.

Then Williams stopped returning calls, and Boston went to the authorities.

"He quit responding so I decided to take a little action," he said.  

The case came to the attention of the FBI in October, after Williams' attorney, Pete Theodocion, called FBI Special Agent Paul Kubala and U.S. Attorney Stephen Inman to a meeting. Williams had decided to come clean and admitted the fraud to the FBI.

By that time, more investors had begun to catch on and had alerted the Columbia County Sheriff's Office and the Georgia Department of Insurance, the state's regulatory agency for the insurance industry.

Kubala said Williams knew he was about to get caught.

"It is our understanding that the dam on Mr. Williams' case was about to break," he said.

After looking into the case further, Kubala said they contacted Boston, who had the evidence they needed to charge Williams in federal court.

Boston had kept detailed records and receipts. By mailing Boston the fake investment package, Williams had committed mail fraud -- a federal crime -- and Boston had the documents to prove it, Kubala said.

After the hearing Wednesday, some of the victims and their families said Williams should go to prison for a long time.

But Boston doesn't see it that way. In his opinion, Williams should remain free with the caveat that he works the rest of his life to repay the victims. Boston said he would forgo his repayment so others could get their savings back. But locking his former friend up won't accomplish that, he said.

"Send him to jail -- yeah, he deserves it -- but if the guy could work and he could be monitored and make restitution to some of the people who really may need the money real badly, it would help them," Boston said. "That would be more beneficial than sending him away and they get nothing."

Man guilty of stealing life savings
Williams' plea

Walter Williams pleaded guilty Wednesday to using his insurance and investment company to embezzle $1.7 million from his friends, family and longtime customers.

READ THURSDAY'S story on his court appearance online at tiny.cc/txa7w

SHARE YOUR STORY

If you were a victim of Williams' schemes, contact Staff Writer Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.