Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Public safety

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 [email protected]

Comments
Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

BRANDON — The 11-month-old girl who drowned in an apartment complex pond on Monday was identified as Deleah Morgan by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday.Deputies released no other details about the incident or the ongoing investigation....
Updated: 1 hour ago

Man, 60, arrested in fatal shooting of his neighbor in Holiday

HOLIDAY — A 60-year-old man fatally shot his neighbor on Tuesday while the younger man stood outside his own home, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said Qiu Feng Kek shot Edward Tudor, 37, outside 3519 Richboro Drive. He died a...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Map: Where to park for Gasparilla and the NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa

Map: Where to park for Gasparilla and the NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa

The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates and NHL All-Star Weekend overlap Saturday in downtown Tampa. Here are highlights of what to know before you go.GETTING THEREThe parade route runs generally along Bayshore Boulevard north to Ashley Street (In blue on t...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Troopers: U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. now open except for inside lane

Troopers: U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. now open except for inside lane

CLEARWATER — Officials have reopened U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. except for the inside lane.  The entire highway was closed for a brief period Tuesday while workers cleaned up a chemical spill after a Terminix truck flipped over. According t...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Man sentenced for smuggling king cobras in potato chip cans

Man sentenced for smuggling king cobras in potato chip cans

LOS ANGELES — A Southern California man has been sentenced to five months in federal prison for smuggling three highly venomous king cobras hidden in potato chip canisters through the mail.In a plea agreement, Rodrigo Franco admitted smuggling anothe...
Updated: 7 hours ago
He drove into Tampa Bay and walked away uninjured, troopers say

He drove into Tampa Bay and walked away uninjured, troopers say

A Miami resident lost control of his truck and tumbled into Tampa Bay Tuesday morning — and walked away unscathed.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Osvaldo Jares, 25, fell asleep at the wheel of his 2002 Ford F150 before losing control and dri...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Parents of 12-year-old Florida girl say she was bullied into suicide

Parents of 12-year-old Florida girl say she was bullied into suicide

Gabriella "Gabbie" Green went to her mother, Tanya Green, for advice on some "girl drama" and harsh text and social media messages she was receiving from classmates at Surfside Middle School in Panama City Beach.Less than an hour after that conversat...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Truck carrying frozen chickens catches fire on I-75 in Brandon

Southbound lanes on Interstate 75 were closed in Brandon early Tuesday morning after a semi-trailer carrying frozen chickens caught fire.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 52-year-old Brian Keith Jester, of Venice, was driving southbound near S...
Published: 01/23/18

Alaska hit by 7.9 earthquake; tsunami warning canceled

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck off Alaska’s Kodiak Island early Tuesday, prompting a tsunami warning for a large swath of the state’s coast.Officials at the National Tsunami Center canceled the warning after a few tense hours a...
Published: 01/23/18

Male bicyclist struck, killed by vehicle in Pinellas Park

PINELLAS PARK — A male bicyclist was struck and killed by a vehicle on U.S. 19 on Monday night, according to Pinellas Park police.The incident took place at about 8:30 p.m. along the 8000 block of U.S. 19 N, near the Walmart Supercenter.The driver wa...
Published: 01/22/18