(Missoula Current) A Hamilton man who devised a scheme over several years to defraud local investors of more than $700,000 was sentenced Thursday to five years of probation and ordered to pay more than $720,000 in restitution.

The defendant, Richard William Brooks, 78, pleaded guilty in January to wire fraud.

In court documents, the government alleged that as far back as 2016, Brooks orchestrated a scheme to defraud individuals of significant sums of money. Contending that he fell “on hard times,” Brooks claimed that a relative was scheduled to receive a large inheritance, but it required legal and court costs to release it.

“Brooks deceptively assured multiple victims that if they provided him with money on an expedited timeline, he would return their funds in addition to a premium of between 25% and 100%,” the prosecuting office said. “Brooks insisted his victims pay him in cash.”

When pressed by his victims about non-payment or supporting documentation, Brooks often lied. He claimed that the inheritance was under seal and that he was unable to provide any documentation.

Brooks’ scheme lasted for years, prosecutors said, until law enforcement interviewed in early 2021.

“Brooks contended that he intended to pay back this money, which he never did, and that he was going to receive a settlement in connection to his exposure to Agent Orange” the prosecution said. “He claimed to have documentation to support his theory that the funds were temporary loans. When law enforcement followed up for the documentation, Brooks ended the communication and never provided any materials to support his position.”

One of Brooks’ victims told the court that he lost his business of 10 years and his life savings because of Brooks’ scheme. Another victim told the court that she had been subjected to threatening phone calls, was displaced from her home and forced to sell treasured antiques to survive because of Brooks.

“He did more than steal our money. He stole our peace,” the victim said.

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