RALEIGH — For years, scam artist Clayton Atkinson spent hours on the phone browbeating older people into sending him money with the fraudulent reassurance that the payoff would be even bigger sweepstakes prizes.
In a federal sentencing hearing Thursday, it was Atkinsons turn to listen. U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle gave Atkinson a face-to-face chewing out before sentencing him to 12 1/2 years in prison.
This is just really shameful, really shameful, Boyle told Atkinson, who wore an orange jumpsuit to the hearing. Can you imagine if someone like you was doing this to your family? Can you imagine how shocked and outraged you would be?
The sentence came after testimony that Atkinson defrauded 38 to 40 victims, including a Raleigh couple, of more than $900,000.
The sentence would have been longer had Atkinson not pleaded guilty and promised not to appeal.
Also present in the courtroom were Miriam W. Parker, who along with her late husband, Charles, lost more than $84,000 to Atkinson and his confederates.
As in many scam operations, the victims were promised large amounts of money, but only after paying escalating amounts, supposedly for taxes or expenses.
Donna Parker said she had had to obtain financial guardianship of her mother to stop her from further cooperation with Atkinsons group.
To this day, they are convinced that they were deprived of their rightful lottery winnings, Donna Parker testified.
In a riveting piece of courtroom drama, federal prosecutor Gaston Williams played a tape of Atkinson giving curt, angry instructions to Miriam Parker. After she and her husband went through all the money they had, or could borrow, he had enlisted Miriam Parker to pass on payments from other victims across the country.
If you had sent it next-day air, it might have gotten there, Atkinson said on the tape.
Miriam Parker replied that she was doing her best to follow instructions about sending along the packages which contained magazines with cash stuffed between the pages.
The fact is, it didnt get there all day, Atkinson barked.
Two members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police came to the hearing from Montreal, where they helped find the scam gang after North Carolina investigators hit a wall.
Based on an initial tip to the multijurisdictional Senior Consumer Fraud Task Force, FBI agents led by Joan Fleming tracked calls from Atkinson and others to throwaway cell phones in Montreal.
The Mounties tracking devices narrowed the scams location to a specific apartment building. Investigators in North Carolina then staged a call to Atkinson. Lurking outside, the Mounties heard it ring, heard Atkinson answer, then charged in and arrested him, phone still in hand.
Additional defendants in the mail fraud and conspiracy case included Dave Stewart, described in court Thursday as an accomplice who knew little about the scope of the operation. He cooperated with the investigation, prosecutors told Boyle, who sentenced Stewart to 6 1/2 years in federal prison.
With federal public defender Sherri Alspaugh guiding him through the process, Atkinson said he couldnt make excuses for his conduct, but promised he wouldnt scam again.
When I do get out, I plan to have a legitimate job, he said.
That wasnt the concern of Donna Parker, who said she has spent the past two years cleaning up the financial mess Atkinson and his crew caused her parents. Her father, retired N.C. State University professor and World War II veteran Charles Parker, died last month at age 87.
In the hallway outside the courtroom after the hearing, Donna Parker said shes afraid of what other families may be going through, given the ongoing waves of predators on older people.
People out there are still going through it, she said.