When Doris Nelson is released from federal prison in 2022, she'll owe investors in her payday loan scam close to $44.8 million, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
The bulk of that amount is money invested that was never returned. But Nelson must also pay $9,000 in attorney's fees to some of her victims, as well as about $1,600 in medical bills for one investor who said she was so shaken by her dealings with Nelson that she must now take medication for the rest of her life.
According to the ruling handed down Thursday, Nelson will be required to pay half her monthly income toward the $44.8 million fine when she is released from prison. She is currently scheduled for release in September 2022, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Nelson, 55, was sentenced to nine years in prison in November after pleading guilty to 110 counts of mail and wire fraud. Nelson operated the Little Loan Shoppe in Canada and later downtown Spokane for more than a decade, during which time federal forensic investigators said she bilked investors while spending cash on lavish jewelry, real estate and cars.
U.S. District Judge Robert Whaley, when sentencing Nelson, cast doubt on whether Nelson's scams amounted to a Ponzi scheme. But a bankruptcy judge had already ruled The Little Loan Shoppe met the legal definition of a Ponzi scheme, opening the door for so-called "clawback" suits where a bankruptcy trustee may ask investors who made money on their dealings with Nelson to pay them back, to disburse evenly to investors who lost money.
The outcome of those clawback suits, including several that have recently gone to trial, will likely affect how much Nelson must pay back. But her attorney, Jeffry Finer, says Nelson is penniless and any restitution that is paid will likely be minimal.
Nelson continues to appeal her sentence, saying her previous attorneys provided ineffective counsel before she pleaded guilty. Several attempts to rescind her guilty pleas were rejected by Whaley before her sentencing in November.
Nelson's appeal has been lodged with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. She has until next month to file a legal argument to overturn her conviction.