Man gets 60 years for bilking 18 victims out of $2M

A 62-year-old Miles City man was sentenced to 60 years in prison with 20 years suspended and ordered to pay $1,987,138 in restitution Monday for embezzling and running a Ponzi scheme involving 18 victims.

Rick Brandt was sentenced on six felony counts by 16th Judicial District Court Judge Michael Hayworth in the Custer County Courthouse.

The charges involved scheming to exploit elderly people, theft by embezzlement, failure to register as a security salesperson, selling unregistered securities, fraudulent practices and operating a pyramid promotional, or Ponzi scheme.

Brandt was given the maximum penalty on five of the six counts. In all, he received six 10-year sentences to run consecutively. One of the counts could have brought 20 years. He was found guilty of all charges by a 12-person jury on March 16.

Brandt told investors they were investing in flipping houses. 

At the sentencing hearing, two of the victims spoke to the judge.

Darvin Leidholt said he had Brandt invested the money so he could buy a house for his mother and himself. He had taken care of his parents for many years and his father had recently died. His mother had balance problems and their home was in the flood plain so it was elevated and there were a lot of stairs, so it was important to move. 

He had a mild heart attack when the deal fell through. One day he found his mother had fallen down the stairs, which led to her death, he said. That led to his second heart attack.

He explained the “traumatic” scene with much emotion. “And all I could do was hold her hand for 20 minutes until the ambulance got there, … and (Brandt) knew I had wanted to get another house where she would be safe.”

Besides the heart attacks, Leidholt said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from the events. 

“His disregard for me and anybody else is just terrible,” he said.

Another victim. Gary Glasgow, said: “I’ve saved all my life for my retirement and to help my family.” He had worked as a planner and restored cars as a hobby.

“Of course all this is gone for me,” he said.

Glasgow said he never had headaches in his life and now he has severe headaches and has had many tests, including MRIs, and the only cause found is the stress from losing his life savings. 

Glasgow said he wanted to see Brandt get the maximum sentence. 

“He knew all my aspirations … He lied to me. He was deceitful. He’s a con artist and I think he would do it again,” Glasgow said.

Only two of the victims spoke at the hearing. Some others submitted victim impact statements. 

Custer County Special Attorney Brett Olin, who also works in the State Auditor’s Office to prosecute these kinds of crimes, said: “I can tell you that in my time with the state, I haven’t seen anything this egregious.”

Later he elaborated that the crimes stand out from others he’s seen in the level of exploitation, the large sums of money, and the types of people targeted: the disabled, the elderly, the vulnerable.

Public Defender Joe Zavatsky said there are two types of people who commit these types of offenses. One  deliberately does it while the second is one “who doesn’t know any better.” Zavatsky placed Brandt in the second category.

He said Brandt was an insurance salesman and had experience building houses but no experience running a financial securities business. 

“He probably should have never gotten into this, but he didn’t go out to defraud these people. … He got into a bad situation, got in over his head,” Zavatsky told the judge.

Judge Hayworth said he hasn’t seen Brandt cooperating in identifying his assets. 

For the pre-sentence investigation, probation-parole officer Samuel Ferguson said Brandt only listed assets in his name alone and not any that had his wife’s name on it also.

Hayworth went on to say there are many inconsistencies in where the money went.  

He said Brandt repeatedly committed the crimes against 18 victims “that we know of” that were elderly, had medical issues or were disabled. “People who were vulnerable.…This is a crime that perpetuated itself over three or four years.”

Hayworth said the crimes took planning, juggling and manipulation and when it wasn’t working he just found new victims. It didn’t end until one of his victims was being thrown out of a nursing home, despite Brandt’s assurances he was taking care of the account, when it should have had more than enough money to cover the costs but he had depleted the account to zero.

Brandt said he didn’t have words to describe the pain he caused others and the hatred and anger he has for himself for failing them.

“My family, my church, all the things that are important to me, I’ve ruined. I’ve ruined their lives, I’ve ruined my life. That’s not what we set out to do,” he said.

He said Zavatsky’s explanation was correct.

“At this point I am physically and emotionally drained. … It never was my intent to hurt anyone, they all know that, but the end result is terrible. … I apologize to the court for  having to go through this, I apologize to them, my family, the church. At some point I hope they all can have forgiveness. I started out to do a wonderful thing and I blew it,” he said. 

County Attorney Wyatt Glade called the sentencing “bittersweet.”

Glade said he felt the sentence was “the best that we could do.” 

“I’d really loved to have seen $2 million so we could give the victims back the things they lost but it’s just not possible,” he said.

Brandt is believed to have spent $1.7 million on vacations and many purchases, but Zavatsky said Brandt did not live in luxury.

Olin said he thought Brandt may wind up in the federal prison in Shelby, but that decision is left to the Montana Department of Corrections.