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Utah con man faces up to a 30-year prison term

His 28 ‘friends’ were swindled out of $540,000

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One by one, Bryan Keith Hawker's victims stood up and spoke, telling the judge how a man they knew and loved had swindled them out of thousands of dollars and worse, had betrayed their friendship and love.

Hawker, 30, appeared before 3rd District Judge Lee Dever Friday for sentencing, but not before the victims, some tearful, some grim-faced, recounted how their lives have been financially and emotionally ruined by Hawker's illegal schemes.

Prosecutors say Hawker in particular targeted members of his church and swindled at least 28 victims out of a total of $540,000, with some losing their houses, retirement funds and college savings.

Earlene Gillespie, who invested and lost $40,000 with Hawker, wept as she spoke. "He's made me a prisoner, too," she said, choking with emotion. "I now have no home. I live with my children and I live on a very small Social Security check. I think he's heartless."

Assistant Attorney General Neal Gunnarson said Hawker got people to invest by claiming to have had a vision from God that showed 10 people seated around a table who were divinely chosen to give money to Hawker, who promised them 50 percent returns in six months on investments he would make in foreign currency markets. Other investors soon followed. Hawker also pledged to use a portion of his own profits to do the Lord's work, Gunnarson said.

Jim Stone said Hawker was his best friend and seemed to be such a skilled businessman that Stone persuaded relatives to invest. Stone said losing the house he and his wife, Vicki, owned is "pretty strong," but Stone said he has a good job, and "I'll recover from that." What he will not recover from is his complete loss of trust in other people, Stone said.

Vicki Stone agreed and said the emotional toll on her husband has been immense, even at one stage turning her otherwise fun-loving and deeply religious husband toward thoughts of suicide.

LeAnn Crane recalled quizzing Hawker about whether his investment plan was "a scheme" and his seemingly shocked response at her lack of trust in him. She and her husband were planning to save the profits from their investments to help their daughter do Christian missionary work. "I said, 'This isn't my money, this is God's money,' " Crane stated, adding that the couple invested anyway despite her misgivings.

Norma Hoover grew tearful as she described how Hawker had double-crossed her son, who became Hawker's partner. Her son was so distraught over Hawker's crimes that he had a nervous breakdown, went bankrupt and was living on welfare. Turning in tears to face the shackled Hawker, Hoover said, "Bryan, I want you to know you've ruined lives."

For his part, Hawker made a brief statement of apology to the court and the victims.

Dever sentenced him to one to 15 years in prison on each of four counts of second-degree felony securities fraud; one to 15 years in prison for second-degree felony racketeering; and zero to five years for one count of third-degree felony securities fraud. The sentences are to run consecutively, although the Board of Pardons doesn't keep people in prison beyond 30 years. As a result, Hawker is facing a term of five to 30 years behind bars.

Dever denounced Hawker not only for his crimes but for duping his friends so cold-heartedly. The judge also expressed dismay that Hawker was on probation for an insurance fraud conviction when he embarked on this scheme.

Dever said one of victims said it best: "You are a wolf in sheep's clothing."

E-mail: lindat@desnews.com