An accountant pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco today to a mail fraud charge and admitted to bilking investors of between $20 million and $100 million during a 30-year period.
Roberto Heckscher, 55, of San Mateo, told U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, “I abused my clients' trust. I borrowed money under false pretenses.”
Heckscher operated an accounting and tax preparation office, Irving Bookkeeping and Taxes, in the Sunset District of San Francisco.
He admitted to borrowing money from clients that he falsely promised would be used for commercial loans that would pay the investors between 3.3 and 13 percent interest a year.
Instead, prosecutor Timothy Lucey told the judge, Heckscher spent the money on gambling in Nevada casinos and on speculative investments in equities and commodities markets.
Lucey said, and Heckscher admitted during the plea, that at least 250 clients lost between $20 million and $100 million.
The prosecutor said Heckscher gave his clients purported interest payments in a “sophisticated Ponzi scheme,” using newly obtained investments to pay the supposed interest to previous clients.
Illston set a sentencing date of May 14.
Under the plea agreement, Heckscher will receive a sentence ranging from a minimum of 12 years and seven months in prison to a maximum of 30 years to life in prison.
If Illston decide to give a heavier sentence, Heckscher would be entitled to withdraw the plea.
Lucey said prosecutors reserve the right to file additional charges as they investigate the fraud further.
The Federal Building courtroom was crowded with several dozen victims, five of whom testified at the hearing.
Daniel O'Neill, 77, described himself as an immigrant who arrived penniless in the United States and built a successful construction business.
O'Neill, who has claimed in a civil lawsuit that he lost more than $1 million, told Illston that Heckscher was his bookkeeper for more than 35 years.
“My grandchildren have been robbed,” O'Neill said.
Illston said victims will have an additional chance to testify at the sentencing hearing.