Maryland Couple Convicted in $27M Pyramid Scheme Targeting Cambodians

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Jurors convicted a married couple of running a $27 million pyramid scheme targeting hundreds of Cambodian immigrants who invested savings in a marketing firm, believing they would see lucrative returns.

Jurors deliberated for two days after a three-week trial in U.S. District Court before returning the guilty verdicts on Wednesday against James Bunchan, 52, and Seng Tan, 58. The former Attleboro couple were convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud through a pyramid scheme that authorities said bilked some 500 victims from as far away as California.

Tan was found guilty of 20 additional counts of mail fraud and money laundering, but was acquitted on 16 counts. Bunchan was convicted of 32 counts of mail fraud and money laundering, and acquitted on four counts.

A third defendant, Christian Rochon, 56, of Warwick, R.I., pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme before the case went to trial, and testified against Bunchan and Tan under a plea agreement.

Bunchan and Tan are to be sentenced Sept. 18. Bunchan is also awaiting federal trial on charges that he tried to hire a hitman to kill Rochon and 11 witnesses to prevent them from testifying against him.

Prosecutors allege that Tan and Bunchan, who are of Cambodian ancestry, told the victims, mainly Cambodian immigrants, that they would receive $300 a month for life, and the lives of their children, for every $26,000 they invested.

The pair made the payments to investors for a time, allegedly to convince them their investment was legitimate and get them to persuade others to invest. But the payments eventually stopped.

"Many of the victims are hard-working people who were led to believe that they were making safe and responsible investments," US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan said.

Tan and Bunchan allegedly spent investors' money on themselves. Prosecutors said the couple spent more than $3 million on Mississippi riverboat gambling trips and Las Vegas casinos, millions more on a Florida home and fancy cars, $23,000 on hairpieces, and $5,000 for tennis lessons.

Tan's attorney, James S. Dilday, said: "In her culture, you don't say anything bad about your husband. I think the evidence showed her to be a pawn."