PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A former Rhode Island art dealer convicted of defrauding a wide range of investors — from a wealthy Japanese sword collector to a school janitor — was sentenced to 16 years in prison Thursday for his elaborate multimillion-dollar scheme.
Judge William E. Smith imposed the sentence on DeSimone, 58, of Johnston, in U.S. District Court in Providence.
Prosecutors said DeSimone deserved a stiff sentence because he is a “career con man” and criminal who bilked his victims of more than $6 million, saddling them with “broken dreams, empty bank accounts, and untold distress.”
“Justice was served today. Rocco DeSimone is a remorseless, recidivist thief,” said U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha. “He deserves every day of the 16 years he was sentenced to today.”
DeSimone also was ordered to pay more than $6 million in restitution and sentenced to three years of supervised release after his prison term.
Defense attorney Thomas Connors had asked for a lesser sentence. But he pointed out that Smith did not impose the stiffer sentence of 17.5 years that prosecutors sought.
“We expected it was going to be a heavy sentence,” Connors said. “I think the judge was fair with what he had to deal with.”
DeSimone was convicted in March of money laundering and seven counts of mail fraud. Prosecutors say he used his ill-gotten gains to fund a lavish lifestyle of fancy cars, valuable art works and ancient Japanese swords.
The trial focused on an invention called the Drink Stik, a device that connects beverage containers to respirators and gas masks worn by soldiers in contaminated areas.
Prosecutors argued that DeSimone lied about access to deep-pocketed investors and promised the inventor he would sell the Drink Stik in exchange for a one-third stake in its patent. They say DeSimone then convinced investors to buy shares in his Drink Stik stake by falsely claiming that major international corporations, including Fidelity Investments and Raytheon Corp., had offered to buy it for millions of dollars.
Prosecutors told the jury he employed similar tactics to fraudulently solicit investments in two other inventions, including one in which he had no ownership stake at all.
Defense attorneys countered that DeSimone’s accountant, who had a financial interest in the inventions, handled his business dealings. They also questioned the reliability of many of the witnesses against DeSimone, whom they said had money to gain from seeing DeSimone convicted. Several of them have filed a separate lawsuit against him.
On June 30, Smith issued a preliminary forfeiture order on assets DeSimone acquired through his scheme. The items include a 2006 Ford GT sports car valued at $180,000, a painting by French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir known as “Paysage a Cagnes,” an antique arrow quiver and nine Japanese swords. The government intends use the assets to partially compensate the victims.
DeSimone was convicted in a separate tax fraud case in 2005. While serving his sentence for that conviction, he briefly escaped from a minimum-security prison in New Jersey in 2008, after he learned that FBI agents had raided his house in connection with the Drink Stik investigation.