Altamont native gets 9 years for fraud

Nick Wurl. File photo.

A man gave Altamont native Nick Wurl his entire life savings to invest, writing "my life" on the memo line, according to court documents.

Wurl, now 27, squandered it through a well-disguised fraud system, federal investigators said. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced on Tuesday to nine years in prison by Judge John Lee of the Northern District of Illinois.

The man explained to Wurl that the money was his life savings, the court documents said. Wurl promised him he would not lose any money, according to prosecutors. But within two weeks, it was gone on risky futures trading. That man was one of 61 people who entrusted $11.2 million to Wurl, a 2006 graduate of Altamont High School.

Wurl, now of Chicago, told people he had a system that would guarantee the safety of the money and a high rate of return by trading commodities, primarily agricultural, to Asian markets. Instead, he lost $4.7 million trading and spent another $900,000 on two new cars and other living expenses, all while manufacturing documents to prove the company was running a profit, the government alleged.

To make the fraud look real, the government said he created false bank statements, purchase reports, cover letters and an audit. The fraud was sophisticated enough to fool investment professionals, along with his friends, and friends' parents, the government said in court documents.

One of the finance professionals was suspicious initially.

"For that reason, my son, my brother and myself, all of whom eventually invested with Wurl, undertook a deeper level of investigation than other investments. I am embarrassed to admit that we were 'taken.' However, looking back I’m not sure what more we could have done to vet this alleged investment, other than just walk away out of skepticism," the victim wrote.

Wurl defended himself in a letter to Judge Lee ahead of the sentencing.

"I would never think of walking out of a store with a $1 soda that I hadn’t paid for, however, I began to justify the false reports that I sent to myself as 'It’ll be OK, one more trade and we’ll be back to even,'" Wurl wrote.

However, a review of the company's finances found it only made money during two months of 2012 — $937.50.

Wurl wrote to the judge that he wanted probation so that he could pay back the money lost.

"In considering the facts of this case, my primary goal is not so much to request leniency for my own sake, but rather, to request leniency so I can maximize my opportunity to make restitution to my victims. No amount of money will ever make my behavior anything less than reprehensible but my goal both now and until the day that I die is to recompense my victims," Wurl wrote.

That might have been behind his decision after his arrest to lie on applications to get a $20,000 loan to use in online trading, a violation of his bond. He claimed to make $140,000 a year, but was actually unemployed. As proof, he produced a false W-2 and a false earning statement.

Wurl's court case was extended several times. Kent R. Carlson is his fourth attorney, others all requesting to be relieved due to a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship. Carlson could not be reached for comment.

Wurl has been on a recognizance bond since his arrest. He was ordered to report to prison by June 9.

Graham Milldrum can be reached at graham.milldrum@effinghamdailynews.com or by phone at 217-347-7151 ext. 131