Ponzi schemer with ties to MDI gets 17 years in prison

Posted May 05, 2011, at 7:32 p.m.

MOUNT DESERT, Maine — A con man with former ties to Mount Desert Island who preyed upon investors he met at polo and yacht clubs along the East Coast was sentenced Thursday in Philadelphia to spend 17½ years in prison for running a $23 million pyramid scheme.

A federal judge said Thursday that Donald “Tony” Young “took his act north” when he left behind his modest Georgia childhood and ingratiated himself with the country-club set in Chester County, Pa.

Young, 39, gained the trust of the wealthy elite, including seasonal residents of the local village of Northeast Harbor, and ultimately built a sprawling mansion for his family in Chester County. Young himself owned a home on Tennis Club Road in the local village of Northeast Harbor from 2001 until 2009, when it was seized by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez noted Thursday that neither one house nor one car nor one boat was enough for the golden-haired up-and-comer. Young also snapped up a vacation home in Palm Beach, Fla., 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.”

On April 28, Sanchez ordered Young to repay $21 million to his victims. The restitution order indicates that, in addition to that amount, $5 million already has been recovered and distributed among his victims.

Among the people whose money Young is accused of misappropriating are Milliken & Co. co-heir W.B. Dixon Stroud Jr., a Chester County resident who also owns a home in Mount Desert. George Strawbridge Jr., co-heir of the Campbell’s Soup fortune and owner of a home on Sargent Drive in Northeast Harbor, also is among those who allegedly handed money over to Young, thinking it would be legitimately invested.

Several of Young’s victims say they are now penniless. 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.

According to the SEC indictment against Young, clients of his investment advisory business invested approximately $96 million with Young between 1999 and 2009. The SEC, comparing Young’s deeds to a Ponzi-like scheme, filed a civil complaint against Young in federal court in Philadelphia in April 2009.

Young told the judge last week that he lost control of the fraud once he started down a slippery slope. He pleaded guilty last July 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.

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.

Bangor Daily News reporter Bill Trotter contributed to this story.

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