Hitomi Tsuyuki, a California financial planner who stole $2.8 million from family friends, elderly people, and people he knew through his father's church has been sentenced to 18 years in prison.

After being arrested last summer, he pleaded guilty in September to 17 felony counts of making untrue statements about the sale of securities, 10 counts of theft from the elderly, one count of grand theft and one count of use of a scheme to defraud.

Tsuyuki, 57, of Coto de Caza, defrauded 33 clients out of money he said he was investing in bonds, but instead converted to his own use, according to the Orange County California district attorney's office.

Many of those he defrauded were vulnerable elderly people or people who trusted him because of knowing him thorough the church where his father was a minister. Some had known him since he was a child. The fraud was committed over a 10-year period from 1997 to 2007 through his firm, Tsuyuki Integrated Financial Resources.

In victim statements given to the court, those defrauded reported ruined lives and lost opportunities of a lifetime, said Farrah Emami, spokesperson for the Orange County district attorney's office.

One elderly woman told the court she and the love of her life were to be married and travel, but she had to keep working after she lost her savings to Tsuyuki. Her intended husband died before they were able too marry, Emami said.
Another reported losing not only her own money but also her father's $20,000 that had been reparations for the Japanese internments during World War II.

Tsuyuki used the money for vacation property, cars and golf club memberships, among other things.

The victims' statements included these remarks:

"I first met Hitomi Tsuyuki and his family sometime in the late 1950s ... We all used to play afterschool at the family church. In July of 2001, he called me and said that he had an investment opportunity that he was offering to only his close friends and family members. I discussed this investment opportunity with my father and we both agreed to invest $20,000 each. I then wrote out two checks for $20,000 each. One check was for me and the other for my father. The $20,000 from my father was the redress money that was granted to him years after he was interned during WWII.

"I eventually entrusted Hitomi with much of the money I had. This was the money I needed for my family's livelihood. Unfortunately, this trust and faith I had in Hitomi, blinded me to the fact that he had already set up the ground work to steal most of my life savings. "In my culture, when shame is brought to a family, the one causing it should take responsibility for it in some way. As I stand here and I reflect over the past decade of fraud, I see no remorse or shame in him. He should not be free to be able to build up people's trust, and then prey upon that very trust and steal their life savings. "No one should have to go through what he put me through. I spent many stress-filled days and sleepless nights, blaming myself for allowing him to steal from me. Please do not let him have that opportunity to victimize another."

Another female victim wrote in part:

"Hitomi Tsuyuki stole one-third of my retirement. The fact that Tsuyuki defrauded long-time clients, stealing from them and carelessly harming their lives in such a calculating and malicious manner, is appalling. Even more appalling is the type of victim Tsuyuki chose to prey upon - those who were older; those who lived alone; those who were naive investors; and those who were carefully and strategically manipulated into trusting him.

"On March 24, 2008, [an OCDA] Investigator informed me that I was one of many 'victims' who had been defrauded by Tsuyuki. I received the call on my cell phone in a parking lot on my way to meet my fiancé for lunch. Unfortunately, every plan I had made for my future and my 'golden years' changed with that phone call.

"With so much financial uncertainty, at my insistence, [my fiancé] and I postponed marriage. [We] had plans for extensive travel, but that was no longer feasible because of the need to increase my work schedule and reduce expenses. The unceasing anguish and acute humiliation caused by Tsuyuki's actions took a heavy toll on my health - endless worry, inability to sleep, anxiety, depression, and medication. Sadly, my beloved [fiancé] passed away, never having the chance to see this resolved, and still concerned about my well-being and financial future.

"I submit this letter on behalf of justice, and on behalf of all of us whose voices will not be heard in any other way. Because of our ages, some of us will live with the burden of our losses for the remainder of our lives."

Another female victim wrote in part:

"Hitomi and I have shared many special and wonderful memories over the last 30 years including events with his families, children, my family and our many friends. Hitomi always assured me that, with his help, I would be okay financially. This is why I cannot understand how he created such a horrible monster within himself, causing much distress to so many innocent people and their beloved families."

A male victim wrote in part:

"We have trusted Mr. Tsuyuki with our money, [which] we though he was investing for our [retirement]. We have suffered the hardship due to the loss of our finances. Even if it's a small amount to some, it was a lot to us, specially on a fixed income."

"It was a lot more than just theft of money for many of these people; it changed their lives," Emami says.

--Karen DeMasters