Thomas Qualls, the president of a foreign currency investment firm in Garden City, who bilked investors out of $1 million and fled to Canada during his fraud trial nearly six years ago, was sentenced in Brooklyn on Friday to 17 years in prison.
United States District Judge Dora L. Irizarry also ordered the former president of International Foreign Currency, Inc. to pay approximately $817,000 in restitution.
In a bizarre twist in the trial, Qualls, prosecutors said, never appeared in court on Nov. 3, 2008, the day closing arguments were set to begin. He was apprehended six months later in Canada. The 45-year-old remained in custody for several years before he was extradited back to the United States in July 2012.
The trial resumed without him and a jury convicted him on Nov. 5, 2008 of mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
“The defendant bilked his clients by stealing their hard-earned money, and when faced with the overwhelming evidence of his misdeeds presented to a jury of his peers, he fled the country,” United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch said in a statement.
“This case shows, once again,” she added, “that you can run, but you cannot hide.”
Prosecutors said that Qualls purported to run a firm that invested in foreign currency. But he stole investors’ money for business and personal expenses—including a Caribbean cruise and for payments toward a Jaguar.
Former employees who testified during the trial told the court that Qualls had instructed them to provide false and misleading information to prospective investors, prosecutors said. He also went as far as creating phony account statements to conceal the fraud, prosecutors said.