ANCHORAGE - A federal judge on Thursday put off sentencing RaeJean Bonham, the woman convicted of operating a fraudulent airline ticket brokerage in Fairbanks that took more than $15 million from investors.
U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland was expected to hand Bonham a four-year sentence, in keeping with federal sentencing standards. But during a hearing he told attorneys and Bonham he was inclined to give her 6 years.
Holland said he was basing the decision on the number of victims. About 1,200 people invested in World Plus.
``We have a shocking number of people who have taken their life savings and poured it into what turned out to be a fraudulent scheme,'' Holland said.
Sue Ellen Tatter, Bonham's attorney, complained in court that Holland hadn't warned her he was considering such a move, and said she didn't have time to prepare an argument.
Holland ordered Tatter and Joseph Beck, the U.S. Justice Department attorney who prosecuted the case, to prepare memos on the sentencing issue. He said he would schedule another sentencing hearing for next month.
Tatter was able to mount a defense, however. She argued Bonham, 48, was hardly the only person to blame in the scheme, and the victims shared some of the blame because they willingly invested in the hopes of big payoffs.
``They get angry at themselves because they were dumb enough or greedy enough to bite the bait,'' Tatter said.
Bonham pleaded guilty earlier this year to money laundering and mail fraud, charges that stem from her World Plus operation.
She billed World Plus as a frequent-flier mileage brokerage that specialized in selling discount airline tickets, chiefly on Delta Air Lines.
But federal investigators said World Plus was a Ponzi scheme, with Bonham taking money from new investors to pay off the exorbitant interest she promised earlier investors.
She was able to attract money from nearly all 50 states, and the roster of investors included police officers and state and federal prosecutors. Two state attorneys, Ken Goldman and Gayle Garrigues, lost their jobs last month because of their involvement in the scheme.
When World Plus fell apart in late 1995, about $15.3 million in investors' principal disappeared, investigators said. Including promised interest, the figure is closer to $60 million.