David Hernandez’s lifetime of lying has caught up to him, said a federal judge who sentenced the Downers Grove man Friday to more than 16 years in prison for swindling more than 250 people out of $6.4 million.
Hernandez, best known for starting an Internet-based sports talk show with radio personality Mike North, apologized to his fraud victims in a rambling, tearful statement to U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman. Hernandez pleaded for sympathy because he claims to suffer from mental illness brought on by childhood abuse.
But the judge showed little compassion. Hernandez is a repeat offender, having pleaded guilty in 1998 to embezzling more than $600,000 from customers of a Chicago bank where he worked.
“You’re really just nothing but a con man and a thief, and you have no conscience at all,” Gettleman said. He later would add, “You need to be taken away from society for a long time,” before imposing a sentence of 16 years and eight months on Hernandez.
Hernandez, 50, also has to pay restitution to his victims, but the prosecutor said investors will likely never be repaid. Hernandez has no assets other than an interest in his suburban home and two automobiles, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Hernandez broke into the spotlight in 2009 when North introduced him to sports fans during the premiere of his cable TV show on Comcast SportsNet Chicago. Hernandez’s company, NextStep Medical Staffing, was the corporate sponsor of North’s show, which also was broadcast on an Internet radio station called Chicago Sports Webio.
NextStep was just a Ponzi scheme. Between July 2007 and June 2009, Hernandez falsely promised investors monthly returns of 10 to 16 percent in a phony business involving payday loans. Hernandez also diverted some of the funds for personal use, including funding the launch of Webio.
Hernandez repeatedly lied about his background, too, claiming he had a law degree and a master’s in business administration.
He fled when the scheme came apart in June 2009 because Hernandez could no longer make payments to his investors. Police arrested him at a Super 8 motel in downstate Normal after a suicide attempt.
Hernandez pleaded guilty to one count of fraud last January, but his lies did not stop, prosecutors said. He attempted to delay his sentencing last summer by fabricating medical records that diagnosed him with cancer. Gettleman revoked his bond, and Hernandez has been in the Metropolitan Correctional Center since September.
Hernandez’s obstructionist behavior increased his sentence, the judge said. His prior criminal history, which includes child abduction and battery, also boosted his prison time.
“Your whole life is like a Ponzi scheme, building one lie upon another,” Gettleman told Hernandez. “It finally caught up to you.”