Investment chief gets 50 years for scheme

Edwin Fujinaga has been sentenced to 50 years in a US prison for fraud.
Edwin Fujinaga has been sentenced to 50 years in a US prison for fraud.

The former head of a Tokyo and Las Vegas investment firm has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for bilking thousands of Japanese victims in what prosecutors called a $US1.5 billion ($A2.2 billion) international Ponzi scheme ranking among the largest-ever US fraud cases.

Edwin Fujinaga, 72, also was ordered to pay nearly $US1.3 billion ($A1.9 billion) in restitution to victims, including many vulnerable retirees in Japan who were told they were investing in a medical collections business.

Evidence at the trial showed some lost their life savings while Fujinaga spent lavishly on himself, buying a Las Vegas golf course mansion, private jet, luxury cars and real estate in California and Hawaii.

Chief US District Judge Gloria Navarro called Fujinaga's apologies "offensive" and ordered him to surrender $US813 million ($A1.2 billion) in assets.

Fujinaga blamed changes in the dollar-to-yen exchange rate for problems while he headed MRI International Inc for more than a decade. He said he was trying to clean up a corrupt medical accounts payable industry.

The judge rejected his explanation and acknowledged the severity of his crimes approached those of convicted US Ponzi schemers Bernard Madoff in New York, Allen Stanford in Houston and Scott Rothstein in Miami.

In court documents, prosecutors ranked Fujinaga several notches below Madoff, who was sentenced to 150 years in prison for bilking thousands of investors out of at least $US20 billion ($A29 billion).

MRI had $US1.56 billion ($A2.26 billion) in outstanding investments when the scheme collapsed in 2013. Prosecutors said the business relied on "new investor money going out to old investors."

"Yes, I made mistakes. I tried to keep it going. I became reckless and people got hurt," Fujinaga said on Thursday.

Two former MRI executives who worked with Fujinaga - Junzo Suzuki, 70, and his son, Paul Suzuki, 40 - were arrested in Japan following Fujinaga's trial and are being held in US custody in Nevada.

Australian Associated Press