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EzJet boss jailed for 20 years

FLASH BACK: Sonny Ramdeo at a press conference in Guyana at a time when his airline charter was beginning to face problems.

BY FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

When Sonny Ramdeo embezzled at least $21.4 million from his employer, he didn’t blow the money on fancy cars and waterfront homes.

Instead, federal prosecutors said Ramdeo, 38, envisioned himself as the next Sir Richard Branson — with a bandit twist — and used his ill-gotten gains to set up a charter airline company.

Ramdeo was sentenced to 20 years in prison Thursday after a hearing that went on for more than eight hours in federal court in West Palm Beach.

The Sunrise man was payroll manager for the Boca Raton-based Promise Healthcare and Success Healthcare hospital management companies when he set up his own charter air service offering flights from New York City and Toronto to his native Guyana.

He was being feted as a gifted entrepreneur and planning to expand the service to Miami when it all came tumbling down in October 2012.

After his employers figured out something was amiss and confronted him, he fled and hid out in New York City for two months until federal agents tracked him down.

In late 2013, Ramdeo pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering. He admitted he had secretly set up his own corporation, PayServ Tax Inc., and told his employers the company would handle the transfer of the hospital management company’s local, state and federal payroll taxes to the government.

Ramdeo did not reveal that he was running the payroll company, so his employers had no clue that their payroll manager had “outsourced” the business to himself, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen Cohen.

Ramdeo transferred tens of millions of dollars to his own bank accounts and used more than $80 million of it to pay the taxes that were due. But he skimmed off what prosecutors very conservatively estimated was more than $21.4 million that he used to set up his airline charter.

Though Ramdeo pretty swiftly pleaded guilty and was first scheduled for sentencing in January 2014, he set off on an odyssey around the justice system that left prosecutors, federal agents, a series of defense lawyers that he dumped along the way, and even the judge, visibly frustrated with him.

His sentencing was delayed and delayed again as he fought to withdraw his guilty plea, blaming his lawyers for his predicament and filing dozens of handwritten documents, trying to sway the judge. It took three days, spread out over the last eight months, to finish his sentencing.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra could have imposed an even harsher term, but said Ramdeo’s “foolish actions” of lying and perjuring himself in court, obstructing justice and failing to accept responsibility for his crimes meant he had already ensured he would serve a longer prison term than he would have originally faced.

The judge also ordered him to pay $21.4 million in restitution, predicting Ramdeo will probably never come close to paying the full amount.

Ramdeo finally apologized in court Thursday evening, but blamed his crimes on what he said was a life he “dedicated to the service of others.”

He said he worked for Promise, which runs 17 hospitals around the U.S. and has about 4,000 employees, for seven years and only defrauded them for two of those years.

“Eighty percent of the money went to where it was supposed to go,” Ramdeo told the judge, urging him to focus on his unspecified good deeds. “In my trying to do good … doing the right thing leads to doing the wrong thing.”

Prosecutors said he did it before on a smaller scale in 2000 in West Hempstead, NY, when he was convicted of grand larceny for stealing $55,000 by cashing 133 fictitious payroll checks from his then-employer, National Wholesale Liquidators.