Former University of Virginia football player convicted of fraud

Former University of Virginia football player convicted of fraud

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A one-time linebacker for the University of Virginia used his relationships from school, church and the National Football League to perpetuate a $10 million investment scam, a jury found late Monday.

Among Merrill Roberston Jr.'s 63 victims were coaches who helped him get a football scholarship, close friends from childhood and his Sunday school teacher, according to court records.

Robertson, 39, frittered away their retirement savings on personal luxuries and unsuccessful frozen yogurt franchises. He will be sentenced Jan. 3. for conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering in federal court in Richmond.

Robertson was first convicted in 2017 and sentenced to 40 years in prison. But an appeals court granted him a new trial because the Richmond Times-Dispatch had reported on remarks the judge made out of the jury's earshot about the "very, very overwhelming" evidence and Robertson's lack of credibility.

The same judge, John Gibney, presided over Robertson's second jury trial.

After college, Roberston was briefly signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings, but his professional football career never took off. Instead, he became a financial adviser at Merrill Lynch, according to court documents, then conspired with an associate named Sherman Carl Vaughn to start a pair of fraudulent investment firms.

Along with his football connections, according to court records, he exploited people he knew from the Christian boarding school Fork Union Military Academy. He got his stepson to doctor account statements for investors to convince them that their money was growing.

Robertson also used victims' names to falsely obtain $250,000 in loans. The fraud lasted from 2008 until his arrest in 2016.

Former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Eugene Monroe testified that he lost more than $1 million dollars to his college teammate. Another victim said Robertson convinced her to retire early as a nurse at Virginia, knowing he had lost all her money; she found out it was gone on the way to her retirement party. One victim killed himself, his son told the court, to spare his family the cost of medical treatment they could no longer afford.

He paid back about $1.4 million to investors using other people's money, according to his trial testimony. In both trials, Robertson maintained that his business efforts were legitimate and could still succeed.

"I still believe in my heart that everybody will be made whole," he said at his first sentencing, according to the transcript. "Hopefully one day God will see fit to say, hey, here it is. Here is the 9.2 million dollars."

After the first trial, his attorneys noted that law enforcement could directly trace only about a third of the money, $3.3 million, that went to "purely personal, nonbusiness related uses" as opposed to failed business ventures. That did not include hundreds of thousands of dollars Robertson gave to his church and paid for his children's college tuition, as well as some family trips to Hawaii and Disney World.

Vaughn pleaded guilty and testified against Robertson at trial; he is serving a 12-year prison sentence.

At the first sentencing, Gibney said Robertson was an unusual defendant, based on the number of people he victimized and his lack of remorse.

"There doesn't seem to have been any consideration of the horrible effect on the victims in this case," Gibney said at the first sentencing, according to a transcript. "The blatant dishonesty, the disrespect of others ... the misuse of sacred relationships."

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