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SALT LAKE CITY — He charmed his way into people's lives, became part of their families. A single dad, like him, was his "best" friend. So was another man who drove a Range Rover and described himself as a "trust baby." He called one couple mom and dad.
All were smitten with Ryan Paul Davies, and then he took 17 of them for $1.2 million in business opportunities or investments that never materialized, all so he could live the high life.
"He played tricks on my mind. I thought he was a great role model and mentor," Anthony Schmitz told a federal judge Thursday.
Schmitz was among a half-dozen people who described in U.S. District Court how Davies, 34, ingratiated — or as one victim said "imbedded" — himself to them and then stole their money. But they also talked about how he robbed them of trust in humanity and broke their spirits. One former business partner ended up on the brink of suicide.
"God have mercy on your soul, Ryan," Tim Denny told Davies as he finished his remarks.
After nearly three hours of testimony, including from Davies and his parents, Judge David Nuffer sentenced Davies to 24 months in prison and 36 months' probation and ordered him to pay back all the money. Davies earlier pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud as part of a deal in which prosecutors dropped 14 other counts.
Nuffer called it one of the most egregious fraud offenses he has seen, not because of the money involved but because of how deep the relationships went with the people Davies deceived.
"They trusted you so much," the judge said.
Davies, of Ogden, was involved in soliciting investments for senior care franchises and other businesses, including a nonprofit startup called CareerReadyNow, which sought to connect college and trade-school students with employers.
Davies strung owner Steve Behunin along for three years, saying he was working on a multibillionaire philanthropist in the Midwest for $1 billion. During that time, Davies spent $440,000 of Behunin's money on travel, entertainment and golf, ostensibly to woo the donor.
Prosecutors say the philanthropist was a real person in the medical device industry but everything else was "pure fiction." Davies used the money for personal and other business expenses.
Prosecutor Mark Hirata said none of the businesses had a chance to succeed but not because they lacked money or clients.
"They were left in the hands of a crafty thief," he said, adding none of the money went to the companies. "All he was looking for was an opportunity to steal."
Victims said Davies had an answer for everything, even swearing on his young daughter's life that he would come through.
In a letter to the judge, Davies referred to his crimes as "mistakes." But Hirata took issue with that characterization.
"It’s not a mistake to induce a businessman to provide over $400,000 for a billionaire philanthropist never pursued or solicited. It’s not a mistake to look a potential franchise owner in the eye, hold up a check and claim you have skin in the game, knowing that check is nothing but a prop," prosecutors wrote in court documents.
Davies also name-dropped Subway, NASA and the U.S. military to entice people into investing in bogus bonds. A former business partner said Davies told him he played golf with Michael Jordan and a recently retired Los Angeles Lakers star whose name he couldn't remember.
Schmitz said Davies used his $40,000 investment to buy three motorcycles the day he got the check. He testified that when he questioned Davies, he threatened to get his bodyguards, "Hector and Carlos," who Davies told him would do anything, including "offing people."
"If you ever go against me, I will kill you," Schmitz said Davies told him.
Mark and Natalie Davies told the judge their son was the person the victims described for a short time but that he has changed the past year. He knows he committed crimes and wants to pay back all the money.
Family members already put up $150,000 toward his restitution, and his mother gave him a marketing and paperwork job in her senior care business.
But Nuffer viewed that as Davies "draining" his family just as he had his fraud victims. As for working in the senior care business, the judge said he would never allow that, at least not without his permission.
"I don’t think I ever want to see you on the front lines with the vulnerable," Nuffer said.
Davies made a tearful apology before Nuffer sentenced him.
"I feel so bad for hurting my friends. I know some of them will never forgive me, but I want to do everything I possibly can to make it right," he said.
Davies said he wants to be his best self, like when he was an LDS Church missionary.
"I want to be 100 percent honest in everything that I do just like when I was on my mission," he said.
During a stern lecture to Davies, Nuffer said he would benefit from "a period of powerlessness" in prison where he could deepen his understanding of how to restore his character. Davies, he said, could work on paying the victims back when he gets out. Twitter: dennisromboy