Man who lied about being a Navy SEAL to start horse business sentenced to prison
Lexington Herald-Leader February 16, 2023
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Tribune News Service) — A man who lied about being a Navy SEAL and put other false information on loan documents in an attempt to start a horse business in Lexington has been sentenced to prison time for fraud.
Christopher “Rusty” Custer was sentenced to three years and five months in prison and ordered to pay $578,014 in restitution for one charge of bank fraud, which he pleaded guilty to in October 2022 as part of a deal.
Custer originally faced four charges, including two counts of bank fraud and two counts of wire fraud. The indictment said Custer “falsely purported” to be a Navy SEAL in 2018 when he applied for a loan from Traditional Bank to buy a home and land in Lexington for an equine business.
According to court documents, Custer told banks and another victim in financial statements he had a net worth in excess of $6 million and $9 million.
Custer allegedly misrepresented his “finances, character and personal history” in documents he gave the bank in May 2018 and August 2019, the indictment said. He also was charged with sending false information about his financial status by email to an investor in November 2019 to get a loan for an oil and gas pipeline inspection business.
State records show a person with the same name set up a business called Moon Dance Farm in Lexington in February 2018. It was dissolved in October 2019 for not filing an annual report.
Custer set up another business called Wildcat Field Services LLC in October 2019. It was dissolved a year later after not filing an annual report, according to state records.
In the plea agreement, Custer agreed to forfeiting more than $309,000, which he agreed was an accurate amount of money he obtained through fraud.
Custer asks for ‘mercy’ in prison sentence
Originally, Custer faced up to 30 years in prison. After entering a guilty plea, he then faced a maximum of about five years in prison. His defense team, led by Brandi Lewis of Baldani Law Group, argued in court records that time was not necessary because Custer was unlikely to re-offend and had a “limited criminal record.”
Lewis said Custer’s family depends solely on him for finances, and asked the court to let him continue to work to provide for his family, as well as pay back restitution owed to the victims. Custer was not eligible for probation.
“... On one hand, the fraud that Mr. Custer accepted responsibility resulted in a substantial monetary loss to the victim. On the other hand, there are many mitigating factors, such as Mr. Custer’s employability, ability to earn a significant income, and supporting a family,” Lewis wrote in a sentencing memo.
“Mr. Custer admits he made poor decisions that landed him before this Court, and he accepts that he must be punished. He is simply asking this Honorable Court to consider the previously mentioned factors and fashion a sentence that will allow him to return to employment, sooner than later, in order to repay the victim herein and support his family.”
In a letter to Chief Judge Danny Reeves, Custer attempted to convey his “sincere regret” for not telling the banks the truth about his financial conditions.
He also requested “mercy” in determining his sentence, citing that he was the main provider for his family.
“My actions have had a significant negative impact on my wife, daughter, and entire family. Both my mother-in-law and parents are advanced in age, and I am afraid of the toll this has taken on them,” he wrote.
Custer told the judge he was devoted to owning up to his mistakes and making amends to reimburse the bank for the money he owes them – totaling more than $527,000. He referenced his job with one of the “largest energy companies in the world,” Workrise Avery Tech Resources, and said his work would provide substantial income for years if the court would allow him to keep working.
Prosecution: Not defendant’s first ‘white collar crime’
In their argument for a harsher sentence than what Custer has asked for, federal prosecutors brought up Custer’s current finances, saying he makes nearly $15,000 a month. They also said he lives in a $1.5 million home, which he has made no attempts to sell to reimburse the victims.
Prosecutors alleged that Custer lied on a financial disclosure form to his probation officer, purporting to make significantly less money, which wouldn’t have even covered the $9,100 mortgage payments he makes monthly.
“These omissions are material as they deflate Custer’s financial condition and his ability to pay a fine, while begging the question as to why Custer has refused to pay restitution at or before the time of sentencing,” prosecutors said in a sentencing memo. “He lives a lavish lifestyle, as a $9,100 mortgage payment on a ($1.5 million) home demonstrates.
“This must be taken into consideration when the court is fashioning a sentence against this defendant.”
Prosecutors said it was “particularly egregious” Custer falsely portrayed himself as a Navy SEAL. They asked for a sentence of three years and 10 months.
“Trading on the trust that would be afforded to him by those that respect a military background – especially as a Navy Seal – and the character traits that background would seem to impart, Custer doctored his personal history as he did his personal wealth,” the sentencing memo said.
U.S. Attorney Carlton S. Shier IV and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Dieruf represented the U.S. government in the case. They said in court records that this was not Custer’s first run-in with white collar crime, and asked the judge to use that in determining a sentence.
They allege that in 2004, Custer intentionally misappropriated the property of life insurance by means of fraud, a charge that was dismissed after he completed a 60-day probation sentence.
Other charges of white collar crime were dismissed in Louisiana, according to court documents. In 2014, Custer pleaded guilty to issuing worthless checks, a felony charge, when he purchased nearly $1,500 worth of food from a barbecue restaurant without paying any money.
“While earning $15,000 per month, with the capacity for more, Custer pays over $12,000 per month to reside on property worth millions of dollars and enjoy luxury goods. Custer has ample earning capacity. He should be compelled to put those resources toward compensation of his victims, not his own personal satisfaction,” prosecutors wrote.
They suggested restitution payments be made in the amount of $5,000 monthly.
“Custer should not be permitted to commit himself to a lavish lifestyle on credit and then claim the inability to compensate the victim of his crime because his expenses are too high,” the prosecution wrote.
Custer will be allowed to self-report to the Bureau of Prisons on April 6 at 2 p.m.
©2023 Lexington Herald-Leader.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.