CLEVELAND (WJW) — An Avon man convicted in a $9.3 million Ponzi scheme that stole from at least 54 investors has been sentenced to prison.

Raymond A. Erker, a former investment adviser who worked in Westlake, was convicted in March after a seven-day trial before federal Judge Aaron Polster. He was handed a 22-year prison sentence Tuesday, according to a U.S. Attorney spokesperson.

Evidence showed Erker sold investments to clients that he misrepresented as annuities and senior secured notes that were without risk and had guaranteed rates of return.

Erker and codefendants Kevin Krantz and Tara M. Brunst, both of Olmsted Falls, diverted funds to “other entities that they controlled” and their personal bank accounts, according to a news release from Acting U.S. Attorney Michelle M. Baeppler in Ohio’s Northern District federal court.

The three conspired between January 2013 and July 2018, stealing a total $9,366,976.37 from at least 54 investors, prosecutors said. Krantz and Brunst previously pleaded guilty.

Ponzi schemes are a type of investment fraud “which pays existing investors with funds collected from new investors,” as defined by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “Ponzi scheme organizers often promise to invest your money and generate high returns with little or no risk. But in many Ponzi schemes, the fraudsters do not invest the money. Instead, they use it to pay those who invested earlier and may keep some for themselves.”

As new investors paid in, Erker passed those payments on to previous investors and told them they were rates of return, according to the release.

Erker, Krantz and Brunst set up office fronts in Delaware and Nevada, employed call centers and made up false websites and account statements that appeared to show investors’ account balances.

Erker never told clients that he had ownership stakes in the companies that received investments through the scheme, according to the release. During an October 2019 hearing in federal bankruptcy court, however, he claimed he had. He was also convicted of making a false statement under oath.

Erker was investigated by the Ohio Department of Commerce’s securities division, the United States Postal Inspection Service and the Westlake Police Department.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office encourages those aged 60 or older who have been victims of financial fraud to call the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-FRAUD-11 (833-371-8311). The hotline is staffed from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day.

Case managers can help callers report their fraud claims — making it more likely to recover losses — connect them with the appropriate agencies or offer referrals. The office encourages reporting fraud as soon as possible.