By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A music producer who once worked with the likes of Whitney Houston and Kenny G was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison on Wednesday for a multimillion-dollar scheme that defrauded dozens of investors.
Charles Huggins, 69, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein in New York seven months after a jury convicted him on fraud and conspiracy counts.
Prosecutors said Huggins stole millions of dollars from his victims while falsely promising to invest their money in gold and diamonds from Africa. Instead, he used the proceeds to finance an expensive lifestyle, including a Mercedes Benz, a luxury Manhattan apartment and high-end restaurant bills, authorities said.
Altogether, investors lost more than $8 million, prosecutors said.
Among the victims was former National Football League star Emmitt Smith, according to court papers. Another former NFL player, Ken Hamlin, testified for the government at Huggins’ trial.
“The breadth and extent of your blatant fraud was extraordinary,” Stein told Huggins in imposing the sentence on Wednesday.
The office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara had asked for a sentence of between 22 and 27 years, a penalty that Stein said was too harsh, particularly given Huggins’ age.
In court papers submitted ahead of sentencing, Huggins’ lawyers said he was uneducated and “functionally illiterate." They said his use of new investor money to pay back others was not a Ponzi scheme but simply a misguided effort to answer investor complaints.
Huggins was once married to soul singer Melba Moore, who submitted a video in his support to the judge prior to sentencing.
Two charged co-conspirators, Anne Thomas and Christopher Butchko, previously pleaded guilty, with Thomas agreeing to testify against Huggins at his trial.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)