Former Salisbury businessman gets nine years in federal prison

Published: Oct. 29, 2015 at 11:22 AM EDT|Updated: Nov. 28, 2015 at 12:22 PM EST
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Danny Williford
Danny Williford

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Former pilot and Salisbury businessman, Daniel Williford, was convicted in a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme, according to a press release from the US Attorney's Office.

Williford was sentenced to 110 months in prison for operating a Ponzi scheme that defrauded nearly 100 investors, U.S. Attorney Jill Rose announced Tuesday.

In addition to the prison term, the judge ordered Williford to serve three years of supervised release and to pay $17,915,013.35 restitution.

"I frankly did not think it was enough.  If he defrauded that many people I think that he should be put away a long time, longer than nine years," said Cindy Adkins of Statesville. "I did not like his business ethics because he would not pay his bills and when he did, oftentimes as I said the checks were returned to us non sufficient funds."

Adkins and her husband Brent operate a towing service in Statesville and Salisbury, and while they did not invest their money with Williford, they did do business with his company.

Several years ago Williford rented space for antennas on a radio tower owned by the Adkins in Salisbury.

"We had trouble in the beginning getting him to sign a lease, giving us insurance information to protect him and us, we had to beg for him to pay us each month, we often times turned the power off to his equipment and then he would pay us.  Many times his checks were returned, he even had other people, other local business people, I assume, investors, write checks to us for the rental on the tower," Adkins added.

Williford is accused of operating a fraudulent investment scheme between January 2007 and July 2013, through which he obtained more than $44 million from over 200 investors in Charlotte and elsewhere, court documents say.

"For years, Daniel Williford swindled hundreds of people, including his own co-workers, out of their hard-earned money. While most people struggle to afford college, he paid those expenses using cash from his investors. Now he will be held accountable for his actions because of the agents and prosecutors who worked so diligently to bring him to justice," said John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in North Carolina.

The scheme resulted in nearly $18 million in losses to more than 100 investors.

Williford promised victims their money would be invested in wireless internet equipment, internet towers, and other facilities and companies.

Instead, court documents say Williford used the majority of the funds to run a Ponzi-style scheme while using a portion to fund his personal lifestyle.

One victim said he was Williford's co-pilot in a commercial airliner, and that Williford had defrauded him on the runway before takeoff, court documents say.

Some victims said they were unable to retire, that they declared bankruptcy and lost their children's savings.

Another victim said he would have to sell his businesses, jeopardizing the jobs of over 50 employees as a result of the fraud. In 2014, Williford pleaded guilty to securities fraud.

Williford's lengthy sentence was intended to "frighten those who will think about doing this, to make them think twice about stealing other people's money" and to make such people realize "that going to prison for that long is not worth it," the judge said.

Williford lived in Salisbury for several years where he worked as a pilot for US Air and also as the operator of internet provider Velocenet.

"My initial thought of what is going on is when I came into my office one morning had not telephone, no internet, they did not answer the phone at Velocenet and they were apparently out of business overnight," Adkins added."He approached us at a local restaurant as we were going in for lunch one day and said 'hey can you loan me some money today, I've got to pay my son's college tuition,and I sort of laughed and Brent sort of laughed and he said well I only need $75,000 today and as we walked in I told Brent I wouldn't give him 75 cents today."

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