Scammer in the slammer: scams on the lam get repeat fraudster 40 years behind bars


A 75-year-old man who pleaded guilty to defrauding more than 500 people during his time as a fugitive from justice was sentenced May 4 to 40 years in prison for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, the statutory maximum and his second federal sentence related to some of the scammer's incessant schemes. Harris Dempsey aka “Butch” Ballow, formerly of formerly of Galveston County, pleaded guilty to the crimes Feb. 2 following his admission of defrauding investors in a Nevada company with shares traded on the over-the-counter securities market, and even going so far as to pretend to be a missionary to convince investors to .

The career con man was previously convicted of fraudulent financial crimes committed over decades, "since at least the early 1980's," according to Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) John Lewis. Ballow was convicted of money laundering in 2003 but fled to Mexico to escape incarceration in 2004. He was arrested by Mexican authorities July 13, 2010, in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico and extradited to the United States in 2011, where he has been cooling his heels in the clink ever since.

May 4, U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. sentenced Ballow to serve four decades in prison and ordered him to pay $37,544,944 in restitution. At the hearing, the court heard from one victim whom Ballow defrauded out of $5 million. The victim explained that Ballow used religious pretenses to convince victims to invest money and that he presented himself in Mexico as a type of missionary. He also told the court that he knew victims who had lost their entire life savings to Ballow.

Judge Werlein added that in all his decades on the bench, he could not think of a more outrageous fraudulent crime spree, calling it “despicable” and noting there were more than 500 victims.

AUSA Lewis told the judge that Ballow was a “financial predator” who would keep committing fraud as long as he was out of jail and explained Ballow had been using fake names to commit fraud since at least the early 1980s when he was convicted of a financial crime against a jewelry store in San Diego.

In this case, Ballow admitted to defrauding investors in E-SOL International Corporation and that, at the time of the offense, he was a fugitive from justice in the United States after being convicted of money laundering that centered on misrepresentations made in connection with the purchase and sale of stock. Ballow pleaded guilty in that case before U.S. District Judge David Hittner and was released on bond. He was set for sentencing Dec. 16, 2004, but failed to show, having fled the country for Mexico where he lived for almost five years under a series of fake names. While there, he defrauded numerous investors through a new scheme, which was the basis for the recent sentencing.

At the time of his plea, Ballow admitted that in 2005, while living as a fugitive in Mexico under the name John Gel, he purchased the majority of the publicly traded shares of E-SOL and installed fictitious officers named Robert Remington and Marilyn Desimone. At the time, E-SOL had almost no assets and conducted no business. Nonetheless, over the course of the next four years Ballow sold E-SOL stock to investors in return for millions of dollars by deceiving them about the company’s assets and finances – all while hiding his identity, his criminal convictions and his status as a fugitive.

In June 2008, Ballow pretended to be a banker named Tom Brown and convinced an American investor living in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, to purchase E-SOL stock for $5 million. Ballow convinced the investor that E-SOL was developing a golf and recreational resort community in the jungle west of Cancun. However, the resort was fictitious and the stock was worthless. Ballow soon fled from Puerto Aventuras and surfaced under a new name a few months later in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he continued to defraud investors.

After his return to the United States following the arrest in Mexico, Judge Hittner sentenced Ballow to 10 years in prison and ordered him to pay $10 million in restitution for the 2003 money laundering conviction.

Several other persons have been convicted of conspiring to commit wire fraud with Ballow while he was in Mexico, including Austin lawyer Patrick Lanier, 69, and Christopher Harless, 65, of Georgetown, who are currently serving a 17 and 20 years in federal prison, respectively. Other co-conspirators are awaiting sentencing or remain fugitives in the case.

The FBI and IRS - Criminal Investigation conducted the investigation with the assistance of the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The United States government also received “extensive and valuable assistance” from the governments of Mexico and Canada.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys John R. Lewis and Belinda Beek are prosecuting the case.