On March 9, 2020, a jury returned a verdict of guilty after a seven-day trial. Bondonno was convicted of five counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to launder money, and 27 counts of promoting money laundering. The jury found Bondonno not guilty on four counts of money laundering concealment.
According to records admitted into evidence and other court documents, Robert J. Bondonno, age 66, created and distributed investment materials to potential investors containing materially false statements and omissions regarding investment opportunities in the Wichita Project LLC and BHD International, Inc., also referred to as the Phoenix Project. He and co-defendants contacted would-be investors and made false representations about returns on investment and how the investment funds would be used. The materials purported to fund the rehabilitation for drug and alcohol in Wichita, Kansas and Phoenix, Arizona. Between 2017 to 2019, Bondonno, John Ainsworth, Gregory Dawkins, and Courtland Van Oden, contacted investors to solicit investment funds, and they split the proceeds between themselves and Bondonno, with no money going toward the stated purpose of the investment. Oden, Dawkins, and Ainsworth all previously pleaded guilty to felony offenses associated with the fraud.
Court records showed that Bondonno controlled the incoming investment funds through bank accounts he created and controlled. Bondonno and co-conspirators used false names, fraudulent and misleading investment materials, and made false oral representations to investors in Kentucky, Maryland, and California. Bondonno brought in more than $519,000 in connection with the investment and spent seventy percent of the funds on himself, with the remaining funds being used to pay co-conspirators through nominee entities and false names. Used information associated with actual rehab centers operating in Kansas and Arizona to defraud investors. No money was ever provided to those facilities or paid back to investors.
One of the investor victims was over 95 years old and resided in Kentucky. Bondonno and co-conspirators convinced the investor and another investor to transfer their individual retirement accounts to his control to invest in the Wichita Project LLC. Court records show that Bondonno and co-defendants split proceeds and used the remaining funds for personal use with, no money going to an investment.
Bondonno is scheduled to be sentenced on June 1, 2022, at 10:00 a.m. EDT before United States District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings. Each count of conviction carries up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and up to three years of supervised release. In total, Bondonno faces up to 680 years in prison, a fine of $8,500,000, and up to three years supervised release. Judge Jennings will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. There is no parole in the federal system.
United States Attorney Michael A. Bennett of the Western District of Kentucky made the announcement.
The Internal Revenue Service—Criminal Investigations, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Louisville Metro Police Department—Crimes Against Seniors Unit investigated the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joshua Judd and Nicole Elver prosecuted the case and were assisted by Criminal Division Paralegal Adela Alec.
This case was investigated and prosecuted as part of the National Elder Justice Task Force and the Kentucky Elder Justice Task Force. The Department of Justice’s mission of its Elder Justice Initiative is to support and coordinate the Department’s enforcement and programmatic efforts to combat elder abuse, neglect and financial fraud and scams that target our nation’s older adults. In response the growing need and targeting areas of greatest concern, the Department of Justice stood up 10 task forces made up of 11 federal districts to combat a variety of elder abuse, including elder financial exploitation.
Kentucky’s federal districts make up two of the 11 districts under the Initiative. Kentucky’s task force is comprised of investigators, prosecutors, and others at the local, state, and federal level with a common objective. According to the National Council for Aging, older adults lose as much as $36.5 billion each year to financial abuse and scams. Many of these scams go unreported due to embarrassment or fear of retaliation.