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Fresno Ponzi scheme victims may get some money back

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hundreds of Fresno residents who were victims of a major Ponzi scheme could soon get some of their money back.

A Fresno County judge issued a ruling holding Kathy Otto liable for the $114 million judgment against her late husband, John Otto. He committed suicide in 2009.

In all, there were more than one-thousand victims, including about 250 in the Fresno area.

While the judge in this case says, Kathy Otto benefitted from her late husband's fraud, and therefore is responsible, her lawyer doesn't agree.

John and Kathy Otto lived a life of luxury, complete with exotic trips and fancy cars.

But, court documents reveal the couple made their money by swindling people using their business, Heritage Pacific Leasing.

John Otto opened the Fresno-based company in 2001.

Ara Jabagchourian represents the plaintiffs.

"A lot of people lost their retirement, had been destitute," Jabagchourian said.

He said John and Kathy met several of their victims through church, including Saint Paul's and Holy Trinity in Fresno.

In 2009, John committed suicide after telling investors he couldn't pay them.

Gary Hutchinson of Fresno lost more than a half a million dollars in the scheme.

"I was, you know, convinced that it was legitimate. They never missed a payment for 11 years, at least not with me," Hutchinson said.

He says the judge's ruling does give him some hope, but he's still not entirely convinced he'll get his money back.

"I'm just cautiously optimistic. You know, hopefully, there will be money at the end of the rainbow, but we'll have to wait," Hutchinson said.

While Kathy Otto's lawyer maintains she should not be held liable for the loss, John Otto's biological daughter disagrees.

"So I find it amusing that she says she doesn't know what's going on, when she was equally if not more a part of it," Whitney Miller said.

From her home in Minnesota, she also told Action News the couple never felt guilty about their scheme.

"It's heartbreaking for me to read all these stories about all these people who lost everything," Miller said.

Federal agents have already seized several of the couple's assets, including an airplane.

Meanwhile, the $114 million ruling will add to the $47 million dollar verdict reached in August against two senior officers involved with the scheme.

Attorneys believe investors will get back as much as fifty cents on the dollar if they can collect from Kathleen Otto. Her attorney will appeal the ruling.

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lawsuit, scams, fresno, fresno county, local
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