Posh Pa. swindler gets 17 1/2 years for $23M scheme

AP News
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Posted: May 05, 2011 5:19 PM

A Southern-born con man who lured investors from his polo and yacht clubs from Maine to Florida will spend nearly two decades in prison for a $23 million pyramid scheme.

Donald "Tony" Young, 39, "took his act north" when he left behind his modest Georgia childhood and ingratiated himself with the equestrian set in Chester County, Pa., a federal judge said Thursday.

Young went to work for a convenience store magnate soon after settling there in 1989, and three years later hung out his shingle _ above one of the stores _ as a financier running a firm called Acorn Capital. He gained the trust of a Campbell Soup heir, George Strawbridge Jr., and other wealthy investors who gave him millions of dollars. Before long, he had $90 million in tow, and was building his young family a palatial mansion with horse farm.

But as U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez noted Thursday, neither one house nor one car nor one boat was enough for the golden-haired up-and-comer. Young also snapped up vacation homes in Palm Beach, Fla. and coastal Maine while acquiring five luxury vehicles; a picnic boat and sailing sloop worth a combined $150,000; and a partial share in an airplane.

"He was described as an affable, easy-going conversationalist _ in essence, a con man," Sanchez said. "He wanted to steal because he wanted to be as wealthy and prestigious as all his victims."

Sanchez sentenced him to 17 1/2 years.

Some of the several dozen victims are now penniless, having turned over to Young their life savings based on the good word of friends. One man invested the $7 million proceeds from a photography business he had built up over three decades _ and now lives off the kindness of friends.

Sanchez noted the cruelty of a thief who could rob people after dining with them, attending their children's weddings or, in one case, becoming godfather to their child.

Young's scheme unraveled after Strawbridge and a few others withdrew $20 million in 2008.

The Securities and Exchange Commission was soon on to him, and he admitted his hoax early on. But he stalled when asked to provide certain documents, one of several reasons Sanchez noted in sentencing him at the top of the 168- to 210-month guideline range.

Young told the judge last week that he lost control of the fraud once he started down a slippery slope. He pleaded guilty to mail fraud and money laundering.

His lawyers argued that he had suffered brain injuries from motocross falls in his youth and falls from polo horses in his glory years. He also has some degree of mania that fueled his extravagant lifestyle, public defender James McHugh argued.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Gray countered that Young merely exuded the narcissism he regularly sees in white-collar criminals.

Sanchez likewise rejected any link between the alleged mental-health problems and his crimes.

"Mahatma Gandhi once said, 'Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed,'" the judge said.

A federal receiver has been working to liquidate Young's assets, including his Pennsylvania homestead, which sold at auction for $3.5 million. According to local news accounts, the buyer was Urban Outfitters founder Richard Haynes, who reportedly plans to demolish it to start a creamery.

Lawsuits, meanwhile, are pending against Young, his wife Neely, his accountant and others.

Neely Young, who testified on her husband's behalf, now lives in a Florida rental with their two young children.