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Alaska News

Avery gets 13-plus years in $52 million federal fraud case

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: May 24, 2016
  • Published May 24, 2016

A former state and municipal prosecutor in Alaska was led away in handcuffs on Monday after a federal judge sentenced him to 13 years and four months in prison, capping a $52 million fraud case that federal prosecutors claim may be the biggest private financial scam ever witnessed in the state of Alaska.

Mark Avery, 57, had been found guilty in February by a jury on 11 of 17 felony counts that charged him with siphoning money from an elderly widow's trust fund, among other crimes. Prosecutors said he blew millions on extravagant purchases such as vintage aircraft and a yacht.

On Monday, he bit his lip but otherwise showed little emotion as federal marshals escorted him out of the back of U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline's courtroom to start what will become his new life in a California prison camp, though he is expected to spend a few weeks at the Anchorage Correctional Complex before that transition occurs.

Beistline said he was torn as he tried to decide the appropriate sentence, saying Avery was an "anomaly" who at one point was a successful attorney and had worked as a paramedic, but who descended into a "twisted" concept of reality and suffered from mental health issues.

Still, Avery was competent enough to stand trial, Beistline said. And whether it was a lack of judgment or greed, Avery was the one who accessed the trust fund and improperly used its money after saying he wanted to build a successful air charter and medevac business in Alaska.

Avery spoke briefly, thanking Beistline for his time and saying he wanted to take back a previous statement expressing concern about the fairness of the trial.

Turning to the federal attorneys working the case, Avery said he realized the judge had his hands full with them and said he doesn't agree with their characterizations of him.

Avery said his biggest concern was finishing out his job as a handyman in California. He asked the judge if he could self-report for his sentence.

Beistline denied the request, but said Avery could be placed into segregated, protective custody in the Anchorage jail where he would sit until the U.S. Bureau of Prisons moves him to a federal prison in California.

Avery's attorney said his client could face physical risk in the Anchorage jail because he's a former state and municipal prosecutor.

Beistline said Avery should be "safeguarded" in jail, then quickly moved to the California prison to finish his time.

Avery pleaded guilty in 2007 to similar charges and served 5½ years in prison for that, part of an 8 1/2-year sentence that was thrown out in the wake of a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision on an unrelated case.

In this latest round, Avery was convicted of two new crimes after federal prosecutors conducted what they said was a full investigation not influenced by Avery's decision in the earlier case to reach a plea agreement.

Beistline cited those additional felony convictions, for bank fraud and false statements to a bank, as "different criminal activity" by Avery. Those convictions were factors in Beistline's decision to extend the sentence beyond a 10-year cap the judge had set in the case in 2014.

"This is a big crime and it can't go unpunished," Beistline said.

Beistline also fined Avery $100,000 and set restitution at $46 million to repay the May Smith Trust Fund that once held $100 million, though it's not clear where Avery, most recently working as a handyman in California, will get the money to repay such a debt.

Beistline also said Avery must repay $800 to an Anchorage woman who had paid money so her grandson could attend a medical training school that had been set up by Avery but went defunct.

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