'Hoodoo' advisor Dawn Bennett gets 20 years in prison

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Dawn Bennett, a former RIA owner and alleged dabbler in voodoo-style witchcraft, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for running a $20 million Ponzi scheme.

In addition to time in prison, U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis ordered Bennett to pay restitution of $14.5 million and forfeiture of $14.3 million, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland.

She had been found guilty in October on 17 charges, including false statements on a loan application and three kinds of fraud: securities, bank and wire.

Bennett once maintained a high profile. She hosted a radio show, penned columns for magazines and was featured as a top Barron’s woman advisor in 2009.

She also ran an online clothing business and, beginning in 2014, induced clients to invest in that business, promising annual returns of 15%, according to federal prosecutors. In reality, Bennett misappropriated client money to pay back earlier investors and to fund an opulent lifestyle that included jewelry, clothing, mystics and a $500,000 annual lease on a luxury suite at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, according to the SEC, which has pursued her in a separate case.

Forty-six clients became victims of Bennett’s scheme, including elderly retirees, prosecutors said.

To cover her tracks, Bennett provided clients with false and misleading statements, prosecutors charged. She hid risks with regard to investing in the business and concealed how clients’ funds would be used.

It wasn’t just clients who were misled. To secure a $750,000 line of credit in May 2015, Bennett falsely told a bank that she had a brokerage account with a net portfolio value of over $4 million, prosecutors said. Her net portfolio value was in fact just $35, according to authorities.

But Bennett’s case featured more than just allegations of fraud and millions in missing client funds. When FBI agents searched her penthouse, they came across evidence of voodoo-type witchcraft. Bennett allegedly had instructions for how to put people under a "Beef Tongue Shut Up Hoodoo Spell," purportedly intended to silence individuals.

FBI agents also found two freezers containing sealed Mason jars filled with SEC attorneys’ identifying information, suggesting that she had cast the “hoodoo spell” several times in order to “paranormally silence” those pursuing the case, according to an FBI affidavit submitted in court filings.

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In 2017, the SEC filed civil charges against Bennett. The commission had previously barred Bennett, who has 44 disclosures on FINRA BrokerCheck, from the industry.

An attorney representing Bennett could not be reached for immediate comment.

Bennett’s co-defendant, Bradley Mascho, had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and to making a false statement, according to federal prosecutors. He awaits sentencing later this month.

The jury delivered its guilty verdict in Bennett’s trial last year after deliberating for less than five hours.

“Dawn Bennett’s greed knew no bounds as she knowingly defrauded elderly retirees of their life’s savings,” U.S. Attorney Robert Hur said in a statement following the verdict. “This conviction — and the years in federal prison that she is facing — holds her accountable for her actions.”

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Securities fraud Financial crimes Dawn Bennett SEC DoJ U.S. Attorneys Office