CITY NEWS SERVICE
SANTA ANA — A Coto de Caza financial planner who stole millions of dollars from friends and other clients was sentenced to 18 years in jail Friday as part of a plea bargain, but with credit for time served it is likely he will only serve about 5 1/2 more years in custody, a prosecutor said.
Hitomi Tsuyuki, 57, who pleaded guilty Sept. 30, was sentenced by Orange County Superior Court Judge James Stotler, who also ordered the defendant to pay back nearly $2.8 million to his 33 victims.
Authorities have seized Tsuyuki’s assets, including a minority interest in a Ruby’s Restaurant in Carlsbad, but it will only cover about 5 to 10 percent of the looted money, Deputy District Attorney Yvette Patko said.
Tsuyuki appears to have little ability to pay the rest back, Patko said.
Normally, Tsuyuki would be sentenced to prison, but because of the state’s efforts to reduce prison overcrowding the defendant will do the rest of his time in an Orange County jail.
Tsuyuki already has 2,469 days credit for time served and with good behavior in custody he will only have to do half of the rest of his sentence.
The previous week, Stotler heard from some of Tsuyuki’s victims, who told the judge how their long-time friend betrayed them.
Sandi Kato, a psychologist from Huntington Beach, told the judge how Tsuyuki even took the $20,000 her father received from the government for being locked up in an internment camp during World War II.
When Kato found about Tsuyuki’s scheme, her father was 86 years old and too frail to accept the news without hurting his health, she told the judge.
Her father died without knowing the truth, Kato said.
“I also have to live with the burden of not telling my father the truth about his redress money,” said Kato, who has known Tsuyuki since he was 5 years old and they were growing up in Boyle Heights.
Patko said unlike similar schemes in which investors are promised high yields for their investments, Tsuyuki made proposals that sounded reasonable and he preyed on his friends, especially those who were elderly, widowed or divorced. Tsuyuki pitched investments in safe government bonds with 5 to 6 percent yields, Patko said.
As he did with all of his victims, Tsuyuki gave Kato regular financial statements on company letterhead in addition to repeated assurances that their investments were flourishing.
That trust, however, began to crumble when Kato said she needed to cash out some of her investments to pay for her son’s college education. Tsuyuki started dodging her calls, and then she discovered that the company Tsuyuki said he worked with had dissolved, Kato said.
Kato joined with a few other victims to sue for some of their money back. She lost $60,000 but was able to get $40,000 back, she said.
“This man is such a liar he should never do less than 18 years because he’ll just get out and do his smooth talking again,” said another victim, Margaret Abo of Huntington Beach, who lost $160,000 in the scheme but was able to recover $100,000 of it.
Abo, who was widowed at 41 with two teenage sons in 1991 and made her living in daycare and babysitting, became one of Tsuyuki’s clients in 1992. The defendant was her brother’s friend.
Her son so admired Tsuyuki he wanted to pursue a career in securities. But when she needed to cash out some of her investments to pay for her son’s wedding, Tsuyuki started putting her off, saying he couldn’t find a buyer for her bonds.
Tsuyuki also sold his clients life insurance policies, pocketed the commissions and then let them lapse, leaving the victims with nothing. Ernest Ikuta of Cerritos said he lost a life insurance policy worth $2.4 million.
From Nov. 22, 1997, to Nov. 8, 2007, Tsuyuki, who was working as a financial planner, convinced his victims to give him their money under the pretext of investing it in bonds, Patko said. Instead, he spent the money on his himself, including his Coto de Caza home, a vacation property in Mammoth, a golf club membership and cars, Patko said.
Some of Tsuyuki’s victims met him while attending the church where his father was a minister, Patko said.
Tsuyuki also falsely claimed to be a lawyer to some of his clients.
He fabricated documents when some of his clients grew suspicious, but when he failed to produce a return on their investments some of them complained to Orange County prosecutors.
Tsuyuki pleaded guilty to 17 felony counts of the use of untrue statements in the sale of a security, 10 felony counts of theft from an elder, a felony count of grand theft, a felony count of the use of a scheme to defraud with a sentencing enhancement for causing property damage more than $2.5 million.