Father denied bail in $70-million fraud case

TAMPA — It was a father-and-daughter moment, but not one for the scrapbook.

On Monday, clad in leg chains and orange jail frocks, Paul Robert Gunter, 58, and Zibiah Joy Gunter, 25, walked in together for a federal court hearing stemming from charges they took part in a $70-million international fraud ring.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas B. McCoun III agreed to release the daughter on $150,000 bail, but denied the father's release. McCoun will allow him to try again today to raise enough cash for his $1-million bail.

McCoun considered Paul Gunter more of a flight risk because he had citizenship in England and, if the charges are true, there may be more money stashed in foreign accounts and contacts in other countries that could help him escape. McCoun said he wanted at least $1-million posted from family and friends before he'll consider Paul Gunter's release on bail.

The father and daughter were charged last week with conspiring to commit substantive acts of mail fraud, wire fraud, securities fraud and money laundering. Federal agents said the Gunters and at least four others hijacked the identities of 54 publicly traded companies and sold bogus stock, ripping off investors in Ireland and Great Britain, and dumping the illegal profits in bank accounts across the world.

Paul Gunter's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Howard Anderson, said the other conspirators had not been charged yet, and that it was unfair to place the blame on Gunter. He said the bank accounts weren't linked to him, only to companies where he was listed as a registered agent or an officer.

"All he is, is an escrow agent working on the advice of others," Anderson said.

The same is true for Zibiah Gunter, said her attorney, Sharon Semek.

"(The government) doesn't have any evidence that my client knew about the hijacking of corporations," Semek said. "She didn't think she was doing anything more than escrow work."

Father denied bail in $70-million fraud case 03/17/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 18, 2008 1:00pm]

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