CONCORD — A federal judge has ruled a Maine man serving four years in prison for operating a $5.6 million investment fraud scheme with 36 victims — including three who lost their homes — and failing to file federal income tax returns should be released from jail over coronavirus fears.
William Bischoff, 79, was sentenced to four years in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2018 to defrauding more than two dozen clients of his financial advisory business from 2009 through 2017 by falsely promising to invest their money in real estate, structured legal settlements, high-yield notes and a startup recycling business.
Instead, said Harold H. Shaw, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division, Bischoff used the money to “line his own pockets and prop up his failed investments.”
Bischoff committed the financial crimes through Genesis Investments Group, located in Portsmouth.
Bischoff’s attorney argued that his age and hypertension put him at increased risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 and he should be released from prison at Fort Devens, Mass.
“Given the combination of Bischoff’s health risks and the presence of the disease at FMC Devens, Bischoff has shown extraordinary and compelling reasons that support a reduction in his sentence to time served to be followed by supervised release,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge Joseph A. DiClerico, Jr.
In total, Bischoff stole more than $5.6 million from the defrauded investors, court documents show.
To conceal that conduct, Bischoff used money he received from some investors to make payments to other investors. He also provided monthly account statements to the investors that falsely represented the balance of their fictitious investment accounts.
Bischoff also failed to file individual federal tax returns for the four-year period from 2011 to 2015, which resulted in a tax revenue loss to the U.S. Treasury of nearly $570,000, according to court papers.
Bischoff pleaded guilty on March 9, 2018, to one count of wire fraud and one count of willfully failing to file federal tax returns.
“It is hard to comprehend the emotional and financial harm that Mr. Bischoff inflicted on the victims of his criminal conduct,” said U.S. Attorney Scott Murray at the time.
Bischoff’s public defender, Bjorn Lange, requested his client serve his sentence at Fort Devens, Mass., to maintain contact with relatives and friends in New England.
Bischoff’s early release date had been scheduled for Dec. 14, 2021.
According to Bischoff’s attorney, as of May 15 eight inmates and two staff persons at FMC Devens have tested positive for COVID-19.
Federal officials argued Bischoff is not at risk because he is housed in a different area of the facility and the facility is operating in lockdown to avoid spreading the infection.
Federal prosecutors argued Bischoff’s victims opposed a reduction in his sentence because of the seriousness of his crimes. Genesis Investment Group LLC, is still in existence, and some of his victims expressed concerns that if released, Bischoff would engage in the same fraudulent schemes.
The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) issued a Supervision Release Plan to put Bischoff in home confinement for the remainder of his sentence, which included 14 days in quarantine at FMC Devens before release, with a tentative release date of June 5.
In his ruling, DiClerico wrote that under the government’s plan, Bischoff would spend several more weeks at Devens, and continue to potentially be exposed to COVID-19.
DiClerico acknowledged the concerns of Bischoff’s victims over granting him “compassionate relief.”
“He caused considerable hardship and suffering to them through his fraudulent schemes,” DiClerico said in the ruling. “A longer time in custody at the BOP would be preferable both from the victims’ and the court’s perspectives.
“However, the COVID-19 pandemic has created exceptional and unusual circumstances. Bischoff is not a danger to the public unless he resumes his fraudulent schemes and activities. The conditions of supervised release are crafted to provide oversight and deterrents to prevent Bischoff from engaging in criminal activity and to protect the public.”
DiClerico ordered that Bischoff’s sentence be reduced to time served and placed him on special supervised release until Dec. 14, 2021 — equivalent to what his discharge date would have been from the BOP — during which time he will remain in home confinement.
After that, he will be placed on supervised release for three years.