His scheme's utter stupidity may have saved Cleland Ayison from a lengthy prison sentence.
The Tampa resident stood before a federal judge Monday in Fort Lauderdale for sentencing on a charge that he tried to pass a counterfeit $500 million U.S. Treasury note dating to the 1930s. He faced more than three years in prison.
Ayison, 32, flew to Palm Beach County in September 2010 for a bizarre business deal. Court records show that he hooked up with a person who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent asking where he could cash in large U.S. Treasury notes.
The scheme was rather complex. The bottom line was that Ayison would earn $1.1 million after the note was placed on the books of a South Florida business, records show. But it was all an elaborate FBI sting. No company or individual appears to have lost any money to Ayison.
U.S. District Court Judge William Dimitrouleas decided he just couldn't impose a harsh prison term on such a harebrained plot.
According to a story Tuesday by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the judge thought the seriousness of the charge against Ayison was diminished by the fact the scheme was built on a half-billion-dollar note. Such notes have never existed, prosecutors said.
"It becomes almost laughable," the Sun-Sentinel quoted the judge as saying. "To me, it doesn't promote respect for the law to send someone to prison … for doing something so silly and outrageous."
So the judge sentenced Ayison to six months' house arrest, five years of supervised release and 250 hours of community service.
Ayison also was ordered to undergo a psychiatric exam.