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Federal jury in Tampa finds men guilty in penny stock scheme

TAMPA — A federal jury returned a guilty verdict Friday against an Odessa man who helped run a penny stock scheme that bilked victims out of more than $120 million over four years, authorities said.

Paul R. Gunter, 64, originally of London, lived in Odessa when he was arrested in March 2008 by federal agents. A Tampa jury found both Gunter and Simon Andrew Odoni, 56, of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, guilty Friday of three counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering; 19 counts of mail and wire fraud; and 14 counts of money laundering. Both men face, effectively, potential life sentences. Each conspiracy, mail and wire fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

A sentencing date has not been set. Gunter, who had been living under house arrest in Odessa, was taken into custody after the verdict was announced, as was Odoni. Both spent Friday night in Pinellas County jail, according to jail records.

"It's a tough day for Paul Gunter and his family," said his attorney, Neil Taylor. "We respect the jury's decision. The federal government did an impressive job."

Gunter and his daughter, Zibiah, then 25, were arrested in March 2008 after federal agents said they helped run a "corporate hijacking" scam for at least four years in which they created fake companies named after real, but dormant, companies and then sold stock in them as if they owned them. The charges against Zibiah Gunter, who lived in Oldsmar, were dropped after she completed a pretrial diversion program, according to court records.

Paul Gunter, Odoni and several others amassed millions by selling stock in companies like Andros Isle Development Corp. of Miami and Cobra Energy Inc. of Boynton Beach, authorities said. Telemarketers in Spain called potential investors in the United Kingdom, according to court documents, and pressured them into investing in fictional companies.

Gunter's companies raked in more than $127 million, according to the federal government, which was split between Gunter and partners in Texas, Costa Rica and the United Kingdom, where Odoni was.

"Odoni and Gunter were key operators in a criminal gang that ruthlessly targeted the elderly and vulnerable, defrauding them and then spending tens of millions of pounds that had been put aside to support people's retirements," said Detective Inspector Kerrie Gower with London police.

Also, in connection with the scam, two Houston lawyers were convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in May 2012 for helping Gunter steal the identities of companies.

When Gunter and his daughter were first arrested, their lawyers claimed they were just escrow agents, with no knowledge of the inner workings of the scheme.

Taylor, Gunter's attorney, did not say if he would file an appeal.

"It's too early," he said. "We have 30 days to evaluate."

Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or whobson@tampabay.com.

Federal jury in Tampa finds men guilty in penny stock scheme 04/19/13 [Last modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 11:16pm]
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