AUSTIN, Texas – The former CEO of a Texas-based investment firm was sentenced to 17 years in prison Friday for a scheme that used former NFL players to bilk hundreds of investors out of more than $50 million.
Several of his victims watched as Kurt Branham Barton, the former head of Triton Financial, gave a tearful apology at the hearing in Austin.
"I never intended for any of this to happen," said Barton, 43, as he choked back tears. "I feel terrible about what's happened."
He was convicted in August on 39 counts, including more than a dozen each of wire fraud and money laundering. The charges could have carried up to live in prison.
Investors including Barton's family and church members thought their money was for real estate deals and business loans. Prosecutors say Barton spent much of the money on himself, using it to pay for such things as a luxury box at University of Texas football games and a $150,000 car.
Former NFL quarterback Ty Detmer testified during the trial that he considered Barton a close friend and lost most of this life savings, about $2 million.
Other athletes who prosecutors said promoted or invested with Triton were Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell, former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake and NFL kicker David Akers. Akers said he lost more than $3 million.
None of the athletes were accused of wrongdoing.
The Ponzi scheme bilked more than 300 investors over four years before ending in December 2009, prosecutors said. He was able to raise about $75 million from investors, only about $20 million of which went to legitimate business purposes, prosecutors said. Many of the investors lost their retirement savings in the scheme.
"He took my money for his fun ... and didn't do what he told me he was going to do," said Charles Dickens, one of Barton's investors. He said victims "wanted to just get by a little better, try to improve our lot. Now it's all gone."
Attorney Rip Collins said Barton was trying to run a legitimate yet mismanaged business and believed it could be turned around.
Guy Kenolle, a retired doctor, said he spent years saving for retirement.
"Kurt took my money," Kenolle said. "Now a lot of the things I planned on doing in my retirement are not possible."
Speaking to U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, Kurt Barton's father, Chuck Barton, said it had been "one of the most horrifying experiences of our life."
"What I am is a father, standing here with my son, literally fighting for his life and not really understanding how it got to this point," he told the judge, crying.
Many of Barton's friends and family submitted letters in support, insisting to the court that Barton is a good father and upstanding citizen — not the vicious predator prosecutors had described.
One was from former Dallas Cowboy Tony Dorsett, who called Barton a friend and an "honest, hard-working, God-fearing family man that cares about people and community."
"Mr. Dorsett didn't invest a dime," prosecutor Mark Lane argued.
"This case was never about money in his pocket," Lane said. "This was about Mr. Barton being a big shot ... This case was about his ego and feeding it. And his ego is expensive."