Disgraced Kirkland investment broker sentenced to nearly seven years in prison
Disgraced Kirkland investment broker Rhonda Breard was sentenced to six years and eight months in prison Wednesday for embezzling millions of dollars from dozens of clients.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Disgraced investment broker Rhonda Breard was sentenced to six years and eight months in prison Tuesday for embezzling more than $12 million from her clients, many of whom sat angrily through the hearing thinking the court got conned, too.
One man, James Boyle, whose stepmother was among Breard's first victims, spoke to U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman about his efforts to expose Breard. As he left the podium, he stopped in front of Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl Blackstone, who prosecuted the case and who had praised Breard for her cooperation.
"I think, sir, that you, too, have been fooled by her actions and her words," said Boyle.
Pechman's Seattle courtroom was packed with victims — more than 43 people lost all or most of their life savings in the fraud. Several spoke of their anguish at finding out that the woman they trusted with their futures had spent their savings on jewelry, cars, vacations and mansions.
Shelly Heath described "25 years of financial sacrifices" to build a retirement fund she later found out didn't exist.
"I'd ask that the court not be deceived by this great deceiver," Heath said. "Everything she did was a lie."
Lynn Hart had worked at Breard and Associates Wealth Management in Kirkland, spent Christmas and Thanksgiving with the 48-year-old Breard and took care of her dog. Hart said Breard knew she had lost money in previous investments and promised to be careful when Hart turned over her savings.
When Breard attempted suicide in February — after ING Financial Partners had discovered the fraud during a surprise audit — Hart said she was frantic and sent flowers to the hospital.
"Not only did you steal everything I had, you were my best friend," Hart said Wednesday, tears running down her cheeks. "You were very, very believable."
In pleading guilty to a single count of mail fraud, Breard, 48, admitted in sentencing documents that greed and "wanting to be like every rich person she ever met" led her to embezzle from her clients.
The thefts had been ongoing since 2000 and Breard covered them up by generating false statements for the victims while she spent their investments and sought other clients in popular infomercials titled "Help Me Rhonda."
Breard spent much of Wednesday's sentencing hearing staring down at the defense table, close to tears. When Pechman asked if she wanted to address the court, Breard rose and walked to the podium.
"I don't have a lot to say for myself," she began.
"But you all say I'm a good actress, and I am. Absolutely," she said, turning toward the courtroom gallery with a sweeping gesture of her arm. "And I took those God-given talents and used them in a way of corruption."
She told the judge, "I don't feel like I deserve any breaks. I think I should get the maximum amount of years, personally. The justified anger from these people breaks my heart."
Breard's six-year, eight-month sentence was below the federal sentencing-guideline recommendations, which concluded her crimes warranted a prison sentence of between eight and 10 years.
Blackstone, citing Breard's "admirable" cooperation in identifying her victims, detailing her crimes and turning over her few assets, had asked Pechman to impose a sentence at the low end of that range.
He also pointed out after the hearing that the victims in this case are better off than many. ING Financial Partners, which had licensed Breard, had already paid back "every dime" lost by 19 of Breard's clients, and was negotiating with the others.
Ronald Friedman, Breard's attorney, didn't downplay Breard's crimes but reminded the court that "greed is part of the American way of life" and that financial crimes "happen all the time."
What sets Breard apart, he said, is that her decision to cooperate — and her unwavering efforts to help identify victims and somehow pay them back — has given her enough self-dignity to want to carry on.
At the same time, "she wants to make restitution," Friedman said. "And she can't do that behind bars."
Pechman said Breard's extensive and ongoing cooperation, along with mental-health issues that likely date to a difficult childhood, warranted a lesser sentence. Pechman, like Blackstone, said she'd never quite seen a defendant cooperate with prosecutors with such zeal.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
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