A former Bellevue businessman has been sentenced to four years in prison for a Ponzi scheme that cost his clients $3.2 million; for some, it was their life savings. He says he plans to appeal for a lower term.

Share story

A man whose unauthorized use of his clients’ money prompted changes in Washington state law has been sentenced to four years in prison — even more than federal prosecutors asked for.

David Richard Dance, of Hayden, Idaho, formerly ran a Bellevue business known as an “exchange facilitator.” He held money for people who had sold investment properties until they reinvested that money in other properties — a practice that allowed them to postpone paying taxes on the sales.

In 2011, without permission, Dance invested clients’ money in what he thought were development projects, including a golf course. He received payments totaling $150,000 from the purported developer for doing so, prosecutors said.

But Dance himself wound up being defrauded, and rather than report the crime to authorities, he turned his business into a Ponzi scheme in an ill-advised effort to cover up the losses and repay his clients.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Ten clients lost more than $3.2 million in all — in some cases it was their life savings. One of the victims, retired cattle rancher Howard Asmussen, of Pateros, Okanogan County, blamed his wife’s death on the stress.

The case prompted Washington lawmakers to tighten oversight of exchange facilitators in 2012. Among other things, the legislation required that any withdrawals from escrow accounts holding exchange funds be authenticated by the client as well as the facilitator.

“At the end of our lives, we was robbed of $850,000 by a white-collared criminal,” Asmussen told a state Senate committee in 2012. “This is something we worked our life at. We’re not capable of starting over again. We worked without vacations — without vacations! — for 60 years.”

Dance pleaded guilty to a count of wire fraud. His lawyers asked for a one-year sentence, noting that the 64-year-old grandfather of 17 had no criminal history, did not enrich himself and even had a letter of support from Hayden’s mayor, Steven Griffitts.

Prosecutors sought a 3½-year term, below the guideline range of four years, three months to five years, three months. In a sentencing recommendation, assistant U.S. attorney Hugo Torres agreed that Dance never set out to defraud his clients.

But, the prosecutor said, Dance’s actions after the purported developer, Brett Amendola, turned out to be a fraud compounded the problem. Amendola was convicted in federal court in Virginia and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Had Dance reported the Amendola fraud immediately, his clients’ losses would have totaled $1.3 million, Torres wrote. Instead, the Ponzi scheme resulted in losses to additional clients and totaled more than twice that amount.

Judge Ricardo S. Martinez’s sentence, handed down in the federal courthouse in Seattle on Feb. 4, stunned the defendant, his family and the mayor. Dance told The Associated Press this past week that his attorney didn’t have adequate time to respond to some assertions made by prosecutors before the sentencing, and he expected to file a motion for a new sentencing.

Dance has agreed to repay his victims; the judge set a restitution hearing for May 5.