An Edmonton businessman involved in multimillion-dollar international pyramid scheme was sentenced to 10 years in prison, likely in a minimum security facility.

In sentencing Michael Ritter, 49, on Tuesday, Provincial Court Judge Elizabeth Johnson described the fraud as one that involved a "staggering" amount of money.

Johnson suggested Ritter serve his time in the minimum security prison in Grande Cache, Alta.


Michael Ritter, an Edmonton philanthropist and former parliamentary counsel for the Alberta legislature, apologized in court Tuesday. ((CBC News))

Ritter, an Edmonton philanthropist and former parliamentary counsel for the Alberta legislature, read aloud a brief statement Tuesday. "I do indeed have a conscience and bear enormous guilt," he said.

Crown prosecutor Greg Lepp said deception and lies abounded in this case.

"It's probably one of the biggest frauds in the history of the country," Lepp said outside court. "[There is] no doubt that the victims in this case suffered an enormous amount, and there were lots of them."

The sentence was based on a joint submission from the Crown and the defence.

Ritter will serve three years for the theft and seven for the fraud. He will not be given credit for time served.

Ritter struck a deal with prosecutors in Canada in a bid to avoid a possible life sentence in the U.S. on the charges.

In exchange, he will help track down $2 million the RCMP lost track of when the money was transferred from a Swiss bank account to Austria.

About $500,000 worth of assets in Ritter's possession have been liquidated and will now be divided among victims of the fraud scheme. Another $900,000 will be distributed from the sale of a condo in Italy.

Ritter pleaded guilty

Last week, Ritter admitted he helped keep a $270 million US fraudulent pyramid scheme alive after U.S. securities regulators shut down the bogus California company in 2002.

In another scam, the Edmontonian admitted he stole $10.5 million US from a bank account set up as a money-laundering venture for a young energy trader with Merrill-Lynch in New York.

Merrill-Lynch has since been reimbursed the entire $43 million US it lost in an elaborate electricity hedging scam run by Dan Gordon, who is now serving a prison term for fraud. Gordon helped police in Canada and the U.S. build their case against Ritter.

Investors promised 20 per cent return

The pyramid scheme, or Ponzi, was run by JT Wallenbrock & Associates in Pasadena and later Village Capital Trust in Canada. Investors were promised a 20-per-cent return every 90 days based on non-existent transactions with latex glove firms in Asia.

Almost 7,000 investors were duped, and the FBI says less than half the money has been recovered. Kingpin Larry Osaki is serving a 20-year prison term in the U.S.

An agreed upon statement of facts says Ritter helped keep the scheme alive by setting up a new company in Belize and a call centre in Edmonton to lure new investors, who lost roughly $7 million after he became involved.

With files from the Canadian Press