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Fraud convict gets nine years in prison despite terminal cancer diagnosis

The Coeur d'Alene Resort photographed on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
The Coeur d'Alene Resort photographed on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

As the latest development in a wide-ranging fraud scheme that stole more than $2 million and once involved a planned visit to Coeur d’Alene by Los Angeles Lakers President Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a convict was sentenced Friday to nine years in federal prison despite testimony that he has only 18 months to live.

Vassily “Tony” A. Thompson, 65, of Los Angeles, was sentenced to nine years in federal prison after having previously been found guilty by a jury of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Thompson said in court Friday that he’s been diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer and doesn’t have much time left.

“I am sorry,” Thompson told U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice. “I accept full responsibility for what I did. I want to die with my children.”

Defense attorney David Partovi asked Rice to allow Thompson to serve his sentence at home as he waits to die. Partovi noted that it would save taxpayers the medical costs associated with Thompson’s last days.

“He’s already been given a death penalty by the universe,” Partovi said. “He is dying and the court has the authority to let him die at home.”

But Rice sentenced Thompson to serve out his time in federal prison, noting that he will be afforded medical care.

“I don’t question” the diagnosis, Rice said, “but in a way, we all have a terminal illness.”

Johnson, along with Derrick J. Fincher, of Spokane Valley, and John P. Nixon, of Philadelphia, were charged with defrauding the organizers of a Coeur d’Alene golf tournament, film studio investors in Montana and a developer in North Carolina of more than $2 million.

Fincher was due to be sentenced Friday, but that hearing was moved to 1:30 p.m. Thursday. Also Friday, Nixon – who pleaded guilty and offered to testify against both Fincher and Thompson – was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay $1.855 million as part of the criminal scheme.

As part of the fraud, the suspects promised a $6 million line of credit to fund a celebrity golf tournament in 2012 at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. The plan was to pay Magic Johnson $750,000 as an appearance fee. But the funding collapsed and the tournament and concert by legendary country music band Alabama never occurred.

“Today’s sentence should send a strong message to would-be fraudsters who target individuals for financial gain,” U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington said about the case prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Jones. “I commend the FBI and the Special Agents for their tenacity and dedication in uncovering and investigating this fraudulent scheme.”

Partovi earlier argued that his client, Thompson, intended to make good on the promised financing, but the complex financial deals fell apart once bankers learned that the FBI was investigating Thompson, Nixon and Fincher.

As part of his sentence, Thompson was ordered to pay $2.015 million in restitution, a figure that the attorney acknowledged likely won’t ever emerge.

Half that figure came from befriending Jason Miller, who said in court Friday that he once was one of the top filmmakers in Montana. He was approached by Thompson and another man with promises to provide $17 million for a start-up film studio if Miller gave them $300,000.

“Once Tony (Thompson) came into our life, all that is gone,” Miller said.

Miller bought Thompson hotel stays and plane tickets and allowed him to drive his own car.

“That’s how he got away with all of it because I thought we were in it together,” said Miller, who once considered Thompson his best friend. “I spent every penny I had and much more because he convinced me what we were doing was legitimate.

“Please believe me when I tell you,” Miller told Judge Rice, “it’s been devastating.”

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