Swindler, 90, admits guilt
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
Ninety-year-old swindler Winfred H. Wong hobbled into federal court yesterday with the aid of a crutch, admitted to four felonies and agreed to repay his victims between $2.5 million and $7 million.
Wong, held without bail by federal authorities since his arrest a year ago for defrauding individuals and banks, faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced in July.
Two of his victims, Maria Ching and Adele Davenport, were in court to hear his guilty plea but said they don't expect to get their money back.
"I'm just glad he's in jail," Davenport said.
She said she first met Wong in 1981 and at one time was in a romantic relationship with him.
"He took everything I had," she said. "I lost my house, my retirement savings, everything. I'm almost 73 and I had to go back to work."
Wong owes Davenport $478,000 and took $10,000 from Davenport's daughter, Sheila Rydell, the women said.
Neither expects him to make good on the debts.
"It doesn't look like we're going to get it back," Davenport said.
In a plea agreement reached with the U.S. Attorney's office, Wong pleaded guilty to defrauding Ching of $50,000 and swindling Bank of Hawaii and American Savings Bank out of more than $700,000.
The plea deal calls for Wong to spend up to 63 months in prison and to repay as many as 50 victims up to $7 million, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Olson.
"My greatest fear is that he will die alone in prison," said Wong's lawyer, federal Deputy Public Defender Donna Gray.
Wong wore a white jump suit to court that matched his hair color. He was accompanied by two U.S. marshals and used a crutch to walk.
Wong's health is generally good but for a man of his age, "prison is not a place where you stay healthy," Gray said.
Wong asked last year to be released on bond, but U.S. District Judge David Ezra refused, saying the defendant was a flight risk.
Wong had a brother in Shanghai and traveled frequently to China and Taiwan, which do not have extradition treaties with the United States, Ezra said.
Olson told Ezra last year the Wong investigation to that point showed that he "stole approximately $3.8 million from at least 15 individuals and $700,000 from banks."
The government also claimed Wong had sent more than $5 million overseas to at least seven different countries between 2004 and January 2008.
"The sheer amount of money that remains unaccounted for causes concern for the court because Wong may be able to access it undetected and use it to flee the jurisdiction," Ezra ruled.
Olson said yesterday that Wong defrauded banks here by presenting phony financial statements and tax returns that inflated his assets and falsely listed his wife Emily's income in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
When Wong submitted that paperwork to the banks in 2005, Emily Wong had been dead for four years, Olson said.
Davenport said Wong told her as recently as last year that his wife was alive but incapacitated by illness.
Wong told his victims that he was a real estate developer with business interests in mainland China and elsewhere around the world.
Maria Ching said she borrowed more than $200,000 in a home equity loan and gave it to Wong in 2005 after he promised to repay her with interest with funds on deposit in a London bank.
Wong made similar promises to another acquaintance who entrusted him with $550,000, according to a lawsuit in state court.
In that case, Wong told lawyer Stephen Bouslog that some $20 million in funds from South Africa held on deposit in a London bank would be released to him soon and that Wong would repay the $550,000 investment with a $825,000 payment in no more than three months.
In another case, former investor James Napier won a $203,000 judgment against Wong in 2008. Wong had told Napier that money he was expecting to receive to repay the investor had been "unexpectedly delayed." Wong said he couldn't reveal any more because a "foreign central reserve bank and intelligence agencies" were involved in the transaction.