SANTA ANA (CBS) — Several longtime friends of a Coto de Caza financial planner told an Orange County judge Friday how he stole their retirement money as he looted a total of about $2.8 million from 33 victims.
Hitomi Tsuyuki, 57, who pleaded guilty Sept. 30, was scheduled to be sentenced Friday, but Orange County Superior Court Judge James Stotler delayed the hearing so he could more closely examine the defendant’s plea bargain and make sure there are no mistakes in it.
Stotler did listen to statements from some of Tsuyuki’s victims, who talked about how their longtime friend betrayed them.
Sandi Kato, a psychologist from Huntington Beach, told the judge how Tsuyuki even took the $20,000 her father received from the government for being locked up in a Japanese internment camp during World War II.
When Kato found about Tsuyuki’s scheme her father was 86 years old and too frail to accept the news without hurting his health, she told the judge.
Her father died without knowing the truth, Kato said.
Kato has known Tsuyuki since he was 5 years old and they were growing up in Boyle Heights.
The two had fallen out of touch over the years, but then he reached out to her with what sounded like a good deal, she said.
Deputy District Attorney Yvette Patko said unlike similar schemes in which investors are promised high yields for their investments, Tsuyuki made proposals that sounded reasonable and he preyed on his friends, especially those who were elderly, widowed or divorced. Tsuyuki pitched investments in safe government bonds with 5 to 6 percent yields, Patko said.
As he did with all of his victims, Tsuyuki gave Kato regular financial statements on company letterhead in addition to repeated assurances that their investments were flourishing.
“I had no reason not to believe him,” Kato said.
That trust, however, began to crumble when Kato said she needed to cash out some of her investments to pay for her son’s college education. Tsuyuki started dodging her calls, and then she discovered that the company Tsuyuki said he worked with had dissolved, Kato said.
“He not only stole money from me, but my trust and faith in others,” Kato said.
Kato joined with a few other victims to sue for some of their money back. She lost $60,000 but was able to get $40,000 back, she said.
Tsuyuki’s plea bargain includes an 18-year prison sentence, but he would only have to serve half that time and he has credit for about three years served in jail, meaning he could be released in six years, Patko said.
The plea bargain also calls for Tsuyuki to repay the $2.8 million he stole, but he has no ability to honor that, and selling his assets will likely only generate about 5 to 10 percent of that for the victims, the prosecutor added.
Abo, who was widowed at 41 with two teenage sons in 1991 and made her living in daycare and babysitting, became one of Tsuyuki’s clients in 1992. The defendant was her brother’s friend.
Her son so admired Tsuyuki he wanted to pursue a career in securities. But when she needed to cash out some of her investments to pay for her son’s wedding, Tsuyuki started putting her off, saying he couldn’t find a buyer for her bonds.
Another victim wrote a letter to the judge saying she got the call from investigators about the scheme while she was on her way to meet her fiance.
The woman said she told her fiance she wouldn’t blame him for calling off the wedding, but he would not. Still, they had to put off their wedding and he died before they could get married, she said in her letter.
Tsuyuki also sold his clients life insurance policies, pocketed the commissions and then let them lapse, leaving the victims with nothing. Ernest Ikuta of Cerritos said he lost a life insurance policy worth $2.4 million.
From Nov. 22, 1997, to Nov. 8, 2007, Tsuyuki, who was working as a financial planner, convinced his victims to give him their money under the pretext of investing it in bonds, Patko said. Instead, he spent the money on his himself, including his Coto de Caza home, a vacation property in Mammoth, a golf club membership and cars, Patko said.
Tsuyuki also falsely claimed to be a lawyer to some of his clients.
Tsuyuki pleaded guilty to 17 felony counts of the use of untrue statements in the sale of a security, 10 felony counts of theft from an elder, a felony count of grand theft, a felony count of the use of a scheme to defraud with a sentencing enhancement for causing property damage more than $2.5 million.
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