Former Indianapolis developer Sydney “Jack” Williams avoided legal disaster six years ago when prosecutors concluded he was an unwitting participant in a Miami fraudster’s $930 million Ponzi scheme.
But it turns out that did not bring an end to the legal problems for the developer, founder of locally based Williams Realty Group, who is going to prison for the second time in four years.
A federal judge in Florida on Monday sentenced Williams, 67, to a year and a day in prison for scheming with his wife, Lorie, to move more than $300,000 in cash a short time before Sydney filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Lorie, 48, received the same sentence earlier this month. Both headed off trials last fall by reaching plea agreements.
It was the latest legal debacle for Sydney Williams, a Ball State University graduate who built strip shopping centers across Indianapolis but now lives in Naples, Florida.
Williams was a close associate of Miami fraudster Nevin Shapiro and recruited a who’s who of Indiana businessmen to invest in Shapiro’s Capitol Investments, earning up to $18 million in interest and commissions along the way.
Turns out the Florida grocery-wholesaling business Williams and his friends plowed millions into didn’t have real operations, and Shapiro — who used proceeds to fund a lavish lifestyle, pay off gambling debts, and make illegal payments to University of Miami athletes — received a 20-year prison sentence in 2011.
A few months later, prosecutors charged Williams had failed to report on his taxes $6.4 million in commissions he collected for recruiting investors, many of them friends he’d met when he was a Sigma Chi at Ball State. He pleaded guilty, and received a one-year prison sentence.
Sydney and Lorie found themselves in the government’s crosshairs again in February 2015, when a grand jury indicted them on charges they made 35 bank withdrawals of $9,500 each during a 50-day span. Investigators said the withdrawals were purposely less than $10,000, an amount that triggers an automatic federal report.
A few weeks into the withdrawal spree, the couple leased a safe-deposit box at the First National Bank of the Gulf Coast, apparently to store cash. After Sydney filed for bankruptcy, he was required to list all safe deposit boxes leased in the past year, but he didn’t disclose the Bank of the Gulf Coast box, prosecutors said.
Under the plea agreement, they each admitted guilt to one felony, avoiding other charges that could have led to Sydney’s imprisonment for up to 20 years and Lorie’s imprisonment for up to 10 years.
At her sentencing last week, Lorie Williams said she didn’t realize she was breaking the law and was withdrawing the money to pay her bills, according to the Naples Daily News.