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Ruiz to be sentenced Monday for role in AEA fraud
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Ruiz entered a plea agreement in June 2011 in U.S. District Court in Phoenix to one charge of transactional money laundering and one charge of conspiracy for his role in the misuse of credit union funds that contributed to the financial institution's insolvency.
He had originally faced 68 counts of criminal misconduct in the case along with co-defendants William Liddle, former vice president of business lending for AEA, and Liddle's wife, Rhonda.
Under the terms of his plea agreement, Ruiz could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. However, the government has asked that Ruiz receive a lighter sentence for his cooperation in the successful prosecution of the Liddles.
On Feb. 10, the jury returned a verdict of guilty in 54 counts against Liddle and 36 counts against Rhonda Liddle. The other 14 counts had earlier been dismissed by the prosecution.
In a motion filed Friday, the U.S. government requested that the court sentence Ruiz to 12 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release.
Ruiz is scheduled to be sentenced at 3:30 p.m. Monday in U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton's court in Phoenix.
Since his plea agreement, Ruiz cooperated in the U.S. government's prosecution of the Liddles, spending hours working with government counsel in advance of the Liddles' trial spending, according to the government's motion.
Ruiz also spent several days on the witness stand during the Liddles' trial, testifying that he got deeply in debt with millions of dollars in loans at the direction of Liddle, whom he said he considered a trusted friend at the time.
The loans were for five business entities Ruiz either owned or was a partner in that all ended in bankruptcy. Among the businesses were the Yuma Fun Factory and Top of the Kress.
During the Liddles' trial, Ruiz also testified about receiving checks from his various AEA loans, then making thousands of dollars in cash payments to the Liddles as well as purchasing a home and two vehicles for the couple.
The government's motion noted that Ruiz's testimony “allowed the government to greatly streamline its presentation to the jury, and the jury's verdict would reflect that the jury found defendant Ruiz credible in his testimony.”
The motion continued: “The government does not believe defendant Ruiz should be held accountable for most of the fraudulent lending activities perpetrated by defendant William Liddle. ... Only (Liddle) could and did orchestrate this pyramid lending scheme. But for William Liddle, the others would not have been swept into this ponzi-like lending scheme. They were willing pawns, but appear unlikely to have been sufficiently aware of or sophisticated enough to discern the magnitude of what William Liddle was fabricating in the commercial lending department of AEA.”
While the conduct “may ultimately compromise the continued viability of AEA,” the motion noted that Ruiz “was merely one of many individuals who defendant William Liddle used in this lending scheme.”
The motion also noted that Ruiz will be able to repay only a fraction of what he owes. “The victim will need to look elsewhere for any significant restitution payments.”
The Top of Kress property will be the subject of a trustee sale scheduled for 10 a.m. March 22 on the steps of the Yuma County Courthouse. It includes the real property at 284 S. Main St., all personal property of the trustor and the liquor licenses.
In the public notice of the trustee sale, AEA is listed as the beneficiary. The original principal balance on Top of the Kress was for $2.7 million, subsequently increased to $7.2 million. Desert Best Enterprises, one of the entities owned by Ruiz, is listed as the trustor.
Joyce Lobeck can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6853. Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/YSJoyceLobeck or on Twitter at @YSJoyceLobeck.