The former Augusta area businesswoman who turned the American dream into a nightmare that has yet to end for many people was sentenced Wednesday to 24 years in prison.
U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall sentenced Regina Preetorius, 47, to the near maximum possible because of the extent of the financial damage left in her wake, and for Preetorius’ continued determination to blame others for her misdeeds.
In looking up synonyms for the phrase “con artist,” Hall said he found one that most accurately described Preetorius — “land pirate”.
Preetorius and “her band of participants” that included her family and two local lawyers “who at minimum should be beyond shamed” pillaged and looted people in dire financial straits and those who sought a way to supplement their income, some of whom were in their retirement years, Hall said.
What was so fascinating in the tragic story was the extreme cross section of the community that in seeking out the American dream of home ownership and financial security unfortunately crossed Preetorius’ path, Hall said, “and their American dream became a nightmare.”
But Preetorius continued to insist that she was the victim. After The Augusta Chronicle exposed her scheme, Preetorius claimed she was innocent of wrongdoing in bankruptcy court in August 2008 — professing as much to FBI Special Agent Paul Kubala and IRS Special Agent Roger Garland even as they built the damning criminal case against her — and did so again Wednesday.
It was the banking industry, the newspaper, the federal agents, the courts, the legal community, and even the people she was accused of defrauding who are responsible for her ruin, Preetorius tearfully told the judge.
“Whatever happens here today I have a clear conscious,” Preetorius said. “No one has suffered more than my family,” she said.
On Sept. 24 after seven days of testimony in U.S. District Court in Augusta, a jury convicted Preetorius of 10 counts of wire and mail fraud and three counts of money laundering.
By 2008 the business Preetorius created, SDA & Associates, was in tatters. It had been an elaborate and intricate fraud, but still a Ponzi scheme.
Preetorius persuaded financially distressed homeowners to turn over their property to her to save them from possible foreclosure, convinced others they could buy properties through rent-to-own contracts, and aggressively sought out investors with the promise of guaranteed safety through property deeds and liens.
It ended with dozens of foreclosures and bankruptcy and the loss of life savings.
According to the pre-sentencing report which Hall adopted, Preetorius defrauded 39 victims out of nearly $1.5 million.
Preetorius’ sentencing range was greatly enhanced because of the large financial loss of the victims, the sophistication of the scheme and intensive planning used, the targeting of vulnerable victims, the abuse of a position of trust, obstruction of justice, and her role as leader of the ruse.
Preetorius faced a sentencing range of 235 to 293 months with restitution of $1,457,375.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Troy Clark asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence possible, citing the financial catastrophe she caused and the extent of her criminality.
Hall set her punishment at 280 months for what he described as the one of the most disgraceful real estate schemes he has witnessed in his legal career.
Hall ordered Preetorius to pay full restitution, but in reality the victims will continue to suffer financially as a consequence of her piracy, he said.
After the sentencing hearing, Connie Stewart, who lost the home she grew up in because of Preetorius, and Barbara Francis, whose mother’s rental property is still in SDA & Associate’s name in property records, both said they knew they would never recover the financial loss. But, they said, Wednesday was still a good day with a good outcome.