BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU — A politically connected man who ran a $1.5 million Ponzi scheme and defrauded 34 people will spend 48 months in prison, a federal judge has ruled.
Jason Pascua must repay his victims more than $1 million when released, U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi said.
Five of Pascua’s victims spoke in federal court Thursday.
Pascua’s victims told the judge that Pascua not only took their money, leaving them struggling financially, but he also destroyed their reputations and friendships.
Some of Pascua’s victims brought in their own friends and family to invest in Pascua’s ponzi scheme, and they said their own reputations were tarnished and their friendships forever destroyed through no fault of their own.
“You repeatedly lied to work this scheme, not to strangers but to family and friends. Most distressing, you betrayed your fellow comrades in arms who would rely on you in battle. … That betrayal runs particularly deep,” Kobayashi said.
Pascua, 39, was well-educated, with a wife and 2-year-old child.
The society pages of MidWeek magazine showed Pascua at events with some of Hawaii’s most well-known politicians, including former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and prominent Democratic activist Amy Agbayani.
In 2010, Pascua joined the Democratic Party of Hawaii to run for House District 48 on the promise of “real change.”
He announced his candidacy, built a website and started a Facebook page but, according to news reports, party officials challenged his qualifications because his membership was not in good standing 60 days before filing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Les Osborne told the judge that, other than greed, there was no reason for the crime and blatant disregard for family, friends and society.
“He wanted to play in the streets of Las Vegas,” Osborne said. “He became nothing more than a thief.”
FBI Special Agent Tom Simon, who investigated the Ponzi scheme, said the sentence for Pascua “seems about right.”
“We want to definitely send a message to him that this kind of activity is not permissible in Hawaii. But we also want to make sure that Mr. Pascua can some day get out of prison and become a productive member of society so he can pay back the million dollars he owes to his victims,” Simon said.
Simon said not a dime of the money invested with Pascua went into any kind of income-producing business venture but, instead, was spent at Las Vegas nightclubs and casinos.
“The largest victim is a single mother who invested her entire life savings of $225,000 with Pascua only to lose it all. She now has nothing, and she has to start over.”
The military reservists who served with the defendant who were victimized also were stunned by Pascua’s actions.
“Many of the victims were fellow members of the Army National Guard with the defendant and my understanding is that the military creates a sense of camaraderie among soldiers where they know that they can trust this person to save their lives in combat and that trust extended to Mr. Pascua when he told them that he had an investment that could pay outstanding rates of return at low risk,” Simon said.
First Assistant Federal Defender Alexander Silvert told the victims in the courtroom that Pascua was sorry for what he had done and knew he had to serve his time and repay them.
Silvert said it was ego that drove Pascua to keep up the Ponzi scheme even though he knew he was hurting family and friends.
Pascua is living in Arizona and has requested he serve his federal jail sentence there. He is scheduled to surrender himself to authorities on October 24.
Pascua apologized to his victims and said he would try to repay the more than $1 million in restitution he owes once he is released from prison.
Reach Malia Zimmerman at Malia@hawaiireporter.com