Gaston E. Cantens, a former advisory board member for Belen Jesuit Preparatory School who used his prominence in Miami's Cuban-American community to target the elderly, has been sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to running a $135 million Ponzi scheme.
"The Cantens used their prominent standing in a close-knit Cuban-American community to ruthlessly exploit vulnerable elderly investors who trusted them with their life savings," Eric I. Bustillo, director of the SEC's Miami regional office, said in a release shortly after charges were filed against Cantens and his wife Teresita. "They portrayed themselves as a pious couple closely involved with educational and religious organizations, while in reality they were living lavishly off money from defrauded investors."
No formal charges were ever filed against Teresita, but Cantens plead guilty to his part this past January.
Cantens, 73, had hoped that he would avoid jail time and instead be sentenced to home confinement so he could take care of his 75-year-old wife. U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams wasn't swayed.
"People need to know, all people, no matter who they are or their circumstances, that there are consequences to what they do, and there's punishment," Williams said during the sentencing, according to the Miami Herald.
Judge Williams also noted that the couple have two adult children, including former Republican state Rep. Gaston I. Cantens, who can take care of their mother.
Cantens' scheme targeted more than 150 victims but began to fall apart when the recession hit.
"Many of the investors, who were elderly, agreed to invest their life savings, including their retirement funds ... because of the appearance that Cantens was a religious man who had the support of the Catholic community," assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Davidson wrote in court papers, according to the Herald.
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