AUSTIN, Texas -- The former CEO of an Austin-based investment firm was convicted Wednesday of running a scam that targeted former professional athletes and cheated hundreds of people nationwide out of more than $50 million.
A federal jury convicted Kurt Branham Barton, 44, in a Ponzi scheme that gained the trust of more than 300 investors -- including former NFL players Earl Campbell, Ty Detmer, Chris Weinke, Jeff Blake and David Akers -- said John E. Murphy, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas.
Barton -- the founder, president and CEO of Triton Financial -- faces up to life in prison.
"It is regrettable that selfish, greedy individuals devise schemes to make themselves rich by victimizing honest and innocent people," Murphy said.
The jury convicted Barton on nearly 39 counts, the Austin American-Statesman reported. Among them was conspiracy to commit wire fraud, making false statements to secure loans from financial institutions and money laundering as well as one count of securities fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud, five counts of making a false statement related to the acquisition of loans and 17 counts of money laundering.
Prosecutor Mark Lane reminded jurors that former Heisman Trophy winner Detmer -- who considered himself Barton's best friend -- testified that he lost most of his life savings, about $2 million since investing with Triton in 2005.
Other athletes who prosecutors said invested with or promoted Triton were Heisman winners Campbell and Weinke, former NFL quarterback Blake and NFL kicker Akers. Akers said he lost more than $3 million. The athletes were not accused of wrongdoing.
Barton's attorney, Rip Collins, said that Barton was trying to run a legitimate though mismanaged business.
Collins said it was "inexcusable" that Barton spent investor money on sports cars, fancy clothes and University of Texas luxury suite football tickets but he insisted that his client was hopeful -- even as things worsened -- that the business would somehow work out.
"I think Kurt Barton became delusional," Collins said. "He became delusional from the standpoint that he thought he could pull (Triton) out of the fire. He hung in there."
Throughout a four-year period that ended in December 2009, Barton created schemes to obtain money from investors under false pretenses, according to evidence presented in the eight-day trial.
Prosecutors said that Barton repeatedly lied to investors, including members of his family, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, business leaders as well as professional football players.
He told them that his firm was using their money for investments in real estate, businesses and for short-term loans to business owners. Prosecutors said Barton was really using their funds for his personal use, to help keep his firm afloat and pay off other investors.
He presented fake monthly account statements to financial institutions, commercial lenders and potential investors to conceal his scheme.
Prosecutors reminded jurors that people who weren't so high-profile saw their life savings disappear in the scam.
Diane Gordon, a woman who trusted Barton because he told her her money would be safe, lost about $850,000 -- all the money from her husband's life insurance payment.
Lane said that none of Gordon's money was used the way she was told it would be but instead was spent propping up other Triton investments.
"The financial assault of Barton's elaborate scheme has been as devastating to his victims as any physical robbery," FBI Special Agent in Charge Cory B. Nelson said. "... The con man can be as brutal as any armed robber."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press