A US court sentenced an alleged fraudster dubbed the "Colombian Madoff" for ties to a multimillion-dollar pyramid scheme to nine years in prison after he pleaded guilty to money laundering.
US District Judge William Pauley in New York said David Murcia Guzman was facing "very serious" charges and denied the defense team's request for clemency after the defendant tearfully pleaded for a reduction of his sentence and to be tried in Colombia, where he faces a 30-year sentence.
"I plead for your mercy to have a second chance," an emotional Murcia said in the Manhattan courtroom just before the sentence was announced on Friday.
Murcia, who is accused of swindling investors out of a staggering $920 million, spoke on several occasions about his two young sons and his mother, who cannot come see him in the United States.
Murcia earned his nickname in reference to Wall Street conman Bernard Madoff, who was sentenced in June 2009 to 150 years in prison after pleading guilty to a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme in which existing investors were paid returns stolen from new investors' capital.
Pauley also sentenced Murcia to three years of supervised release and ordered him to forfeit $7 million and all rights in 10 properties located in Florida and California.
"Murcia Guzman wove an intricate web of deception across continents to disguise his dirty drug money and support his lavish lifestyle," said US Attorney Preet Bharara.
"But his web has been untangled and his lifestyle dramatically curtailed by this sentence."
According to prosecutors, Murcia and five co-defendants laundered narcotics proceeds through his firm DMG and its affiliated companies.
Because they had cash in dollars that they could not deposit into the Colombian banking system, they asked others to set up an account in the United States where these funds could be deposited.
On November 23, Murcia pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder the proceeds of narcotics trafficking. Other co-defendants have previously been sentenced.
As he left court, defense attorney Robert Abreau called the sentence "unjust," noting his client would have to spend a total of 39 years behind bars when combining the sentences in Colombia and the United States.
The New York court accused Murcia of laundering millions of dollars from drug dealers through a Merrill Lynch account and of acquiring nine properties in Miami and another in California to hide the illicit gains.
The owner of DMG -- named after his acronym -- was captured in Panama in November 2008 and deported to Colombia, where he received his prison sentence a year later for illegal fundraising and money laundering before being extradited to the United States in January 2010.
DMG earned about $2 billion in fraudulent transactions from some 194,000 investors.
Murcia drew huge interest in his fraudulent scheme by promising returns of up to 300 percent per investment. Thousands of Colombians gave it a go and lost all of their savings, sparking widespread outrage.
The government suspected the pyramid schemes, in which people are enticed by initial profits and encouraged to enlist more participants to contribute to the savings fund, were really money-laundering operations set up by drug traffickers.