Stockton Springs man headed back to prison for Internet scam

Posted Jan. 07, 2011, at 2:58 p.m.

BANGOR — U.S. District Court Judge George Singal had hoped never to see Todd Denson again when the federal jurist in June 2007 sentenced the Stockton Springs man to 18 months in prison for mail and wire fraud.

Denson, 50, was back before Singal on Friday to be sentenced for again soliciting money to send overseas in an international scam.

A jury convicted him in September of 13 counts of wire fraud — the second time in four years that he was implicated in such a scheme. Denson spent 14 months in federal prison in 2007 and 2008 after he pleaded guilty to seven counts of mail and wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Portland.

Singal on Friday sentenced Denson to 45 months — 30 months for the new wire fraud charges and 15 months for violating his supervised release on the previous case, which adds up to nearly four years in federal prison.

“I’m not sure the defendant today understands the harm he has done to other individuals,” the judge said Friday. “Mr. Denson, you are a person totally committed to your benefit.”

The judge again sentenced Denson to serve three years of supervised release with strict conditions after he completes his prison term. One condition would prevent Denson from sending money out of the country.

In addition, the judge ordered Denson to pay more than $26,000 in restitution on the current case and the $54,000 still owed from the earlier case. So far, Singal said, Denson has paid none of the restitution owed to the four victims he admitted scamming in 2006.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James McCarthy urged Singal to sentence Denson to a total of five years in prison. Denson, through his attorney, federal Public Defender Virginia Villa, sought to serve a much shorter home-confinement sentence.

Denson appeared to be a victim of a well-known Internet monetary fraud as well as someone who has tried to swindle money from people in Hancock, Waldo and Knox counties since he was released from prison in May 2008, according to court documents.

The premise of the well-known e-mail scam is simple: The recipient is instructed to send a certain amount of money overseas, usually to an African country, to gain access to a much larger pool of money, usually millions of dollars. Similar scams were operated through mailed letters and fax machines for decades before they moved to the Internet in the 1990s.

Denson evidently became convinced the scam was real. In 2006, he claimed he sent $60,000 of his own money overseas with the promise that more than $9 million had his name on it. When Denson learned that he needed to send more money, he began asking individuals to “invest,” but was untruthful about what the investment was.

Villa said Friday that her client honestly believes “that the money is out there.”

“This is his sincerely held belief,” she said. “Whether it is reasonable or not, it is a sincerely held belief.”

Clutching a manila envelope stuffed with paper, Denson told Singal that he had $120,000 in a bank in England but could not have access to it without leaving the country. He said that his efforts last year to borrow money was in an effort to access those funds and pay restitution to victims in the first case because he has been held without bail since his arrest last year on the new charges.

Denson also indicated that his latest conviction has had an impact.

“I got the hint, I got it,” he told Singal. “Don’t send more money overseas.”

It was not clear Friday whether there actually is money in a bank in England that belongs to Denson.

The U.S. Secret Service first began investigating Denson in 2006. The man later confessed he misappropriated nearly $80,000 from several residents of Cumberland County, where Denson used to live and own a window-washing business based in Westbrook.

In order to attract investors, Denson fabricated stories about how he had made millions designing window-washing equipment or how he stood to inherit millions from his long-lost father.

In most instances, Denson was able to document his alleged wealth. In one case, he played a phone message to a potential investor from an overseas bank that confirmed his wealth, witness testimony revealed. In another, Denson told Secret Service agents that he traveled overseas and physically saw the money.

Three victims testified at his trial last year that Denson persuaded them to give him money with the promise that he would pay them back more than what they gave.

Camillia Arelia of Ellsworth was the only one who attended Friday’s sentencing. Arelia said she met Denson 18 months ago at the Emmaus Shelter in Ellsworth. She told Singal she later gave Denson $6,000 that has not been repaid.

“He is not a good person,” Arelia said. “I don’t think there’s anything he won’t do to get money from people.”

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