A federal judge Friday, July 27 sentenced a Washington Depot woman to eight years in prison in a $1.9 million investment fraud that devastated clients, including some who tearfully described to the court how she betrayed their trust, stole their savings and, in some cases, left them dependent on food stamps.
The victims and prosecutors said Robin Brass, 55, preyed on elderly and vulnerable clients and on friends she hosted at her expansive, art-filled home.
"She's a con artist. She gets your confidence. She talks a good story," said Jacqueline Ascenzi, who was injured in a car accident and uses a wheelchair, and said she lost nearly half a million dollars to Ms. Brass. "I've been unable to pay for medical treatment and care my doctors want me to have."
U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny in Hartford imposed a prison term above guidelines recommending up to six and a half years. He said Ms. Brass deserves a harsh sentence for what he called remarkably brazen criminal conduct, adding she deceived educated people, including lawyers, and that she poses a danger to others.
"It is a powerful example, in my opinion, of behavior that is beyond the pale and conscience-shocking," the judge said.
Ms. Brass, who has been jailed since her arrest in November 2011, pleaded guilty in May to mail fraud. While promising investors a high rate of return, she used their money to pay personal expenses for herself and her family, including credit card bills, college tuition and home furnishings. She has been ordered to pay restitution, but the amount remains to be worked out.
Ms. Brass, in a statement the judge criticized for not showing a full grasp of her crime's severity, blamed the financial losses on poor business choices and bad judgment. She also apologized for the harm done to her clients.
"I am deeply remorseful and sorry for the pain this has caused," said the Washington resident, who wore a blue prison jumpsuit and was taken into court wearing handcuffs.
A lawyer for Ms. Brass said the fraud began only when investments soured, and her husband said the couple hardly lived extravagantly.
Robert Brass told the court he and his wife did not host parties, went camping in state parks for vacation and did not belong to a country club.
Yet victims said Ms. Brass stole their money outright to support a life of comfort that is now beyond their dreams.
Ms. Ascenzi, a Bridgewater resident, said she has been forced to rely on food stamps and other state assistance as she struggles to pay medical bills for cancer treatment and a car accident that severely injured her leg. She pleaded for the judge to lock up Ms. Brass for as long as possible.
"She not only left me broke," Ms. Ascenzi said, "she left me in debt."