The Augusta insurance agent who stole from his friends and family over nearly two decades through fraudulent investment schemes was sentenced Wednesday in federal court to nine years in prison.
Walter Marion Williams stared straight ahead during the more than two-hour hearing -- never looking back at the two rows of victims whose retirements and investments he pilfered over the past 17 years.
Even when he delivered an apology to his victims -- stating that he couldn't control his "spirit" and that he will forever regret the damage he's done -- Williams' eyes stayed focused on U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall, his defense attorney Pete Theodocian or the floor.
"It sickens me to realize what I've done and the devastation I've caused people," Williams said.
Starting in May 1992, Williams took money from family members, fellow churchgoers and longtime friends, promising he would invest their funds safely, securely and with a better return than a typical savings account. Williams, a former member of Warren Baptist Church, exploited his victims' religious devotion and their age to get the money.
The tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars he collected from the 16 victims was instead used to fund his lifestyle, including gambling trips and vacations in the Bahamas.
While his tax records only show a reported income from 2000 to 2008 of between $1,051 and about $30,000, Williams and his ex-wife Diane enjoyed a home in the gated Westlake community and a busy travel schedule.
It was a fact not lost on the judge. After listening for more than an hour to tearful, heartfelt pleas for justice from victims, Hall deliberated several minutes then returned to castigate Williams for "sentencing" so many to a life of hardship in their twilight years.
"In determining your sentence today, I have been struck by the extraordinary evil you have released on your victims and our community," Hall said. "These people have been betrayed beyond all reason."
Admitting that it's not likely Williams will ever be able to repay his victims monetarily, Hall said a strong sentence for Williams -- whose single charge was for mail fraud stemming from a fake investment confirmation package he mailed in 2005 to a victim in Ocala, Fla. -- would have to be repaid in jail time.
The 108-month sentence handed down was well above the typical sentencing guidelines for Williams' crime, which is from 51 to 63 months. Williams must also pay a minimum of $500 a month toward the $1.7 million restitution and serve three years of supervised release.
"The devastation your actions have caused to this community is wide and deep and will be felt for decades," Hall said, citing its affect on both the victims and the perceived reputations of other local insurance agents and investors.
Perhaps nothing was more surprising, or welcomed, by the victims than Hall's mention of Williams' ex-wife, Diane, who many have said is as guilty as Williams.
She worked in Williams' office and answered many of their calls as they tried to find out what was going on with their cash.
"I'm curious why he's the only one going to jail," Hall said. "I am convinced your ex-wife knew a lot more. I just find it beyond credible that she wouldn't have some idea."
Williams was given until 2 p.m. Aug. 9 to report to the authorities to begin his sentence. Williams is in the process of selling his home, which is under contract.
While the money from the sale was ordered to go toward the restitution for the victims, the home also is in Williams' ex-wife's name. Hall said he wouldn't approve a contract where Diane Williams was given half of the money and suggested Williams have a talk with her.
"She is very fortunate she's not standing where you are today," he said.
As court adjourned, the victims filed into the hallway -- some happy with Hall's decision, some wishing for more. After most had gone, Williams and his attorney rushed down the stone staircase and out the front of the courthouse. Asked for a comment, Williams paused briefly before Theodocian replied; "I don't think Walt's got anything to say."