Former US Airways pilot sentenced in Ponzi scheme

A former US Airways pilot who caused nearly $18 million in losses to at least 100 investors has been sentenced to federal prison.

A judge sentenced Daniel Williford, 57, to nine years and two months in prison. He pleaded guilty to securities fraud in July 2014.

Williford promised victims their money would be invested in wireless Internet equipment, Internet towers and other facilities and companies, U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose said Wednesday. But he instead used most of the money to run a Ponzi-style scheme and part of the money to fund his personal lifestyle, court records show.

One victim said in court this week that he was Williford’s co-pilot and that Williford defrauded him on a runway before takeoff.

Williford’s scheme ran from January 2007 through July 2013, court records show.

Williford, who lives in the N.C. mountain town of Fleetwood, collected at least $44 million from at least 200 people but invested only $7.7 million of the money, according to court records.

He used about $32 million to pay some of his victims’ supposed “profits” on their investments and to cover personal expenses, records show.

In federal court this week, some victims spoke about being unable to retire, declaring bankruptcy and losing their children’s college savings. One said he will have to sell his businesses, jeopardizing the jobs of at least 50 employees.

U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn said he based Williford’s sentence on the “callousness and huge period of time in which he took these people’s money.”

Williford’s sentence was intended to “frighten those who will think about doing this, to make them think twice about stealing other people’s money,” Cogburn said.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak