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A man who was once seen as a genteel Southerner defending the “honor” of the Confederacy but who secretly lived lavishly on other people’s money now faces the next 19 years in a federal prison cell — possibly in solitary confinement.
The first jolt for 65-year-old Ron Wilson — former national leader of the southern heritage group Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) — may have come when he walked into a packed courtroom in Greenville, S.C., yesterday to be sentenced for the $57.4 million silver bullion Ponzi scheme he operated for more than a decade. There were so many victims who wanted to address the court that a lottery had to be held to determine who could speak, according to media accounts. Many of his 800 identified victims expect to get very little restitution, saying their lives are forever ruined by the swindle Wilson carried out.
The next shock when the judge gave Wilson the maximum sentence under federal guidelines.
Wilson, whose full birth name is Ronnie Gene Wilson, agreed to a plea bargain in July, pleading guilty to two counts of mail fraud and promising to testify before a grand jury looking for hidden assets and possible co-conspirators and in any resulting future trials.
Now, it appears that Wilson didn’t carry out the scheme singlehandedly. A co-defendant, Wallace Lindsey Howell, 60, of Mauldin, S.C., was arrested in mid-October on related conspiracy charges and is awaiting trial. It was apparently Wilson’s cooperation that led U.S. Secret Service investigators to Howell.
For his own part, Wilson admitted that from January 2001 to March of this year, he and his company, Atlantic Bullion & Coin (AB&C), stole nearly $60 million from hapless investors who included two family members. “I took from my brother and from my daughter,” Wilson admitted to the court, according to the Anderson, S.C., Independent Mail. “I am extremely sorry for what I have done. My conscience is clearer now than it has been in years,” the confessed con man added.
U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs, guided by a recommended sentencing range of 188 to 235 months, chose the maximum. The judge said she had read hundreds of statements from his victims and concluded he was “a man who preyed on the elderly, and was cruel, heartless and without conscience,” the Anderson newspaper reported.
A year after launching his Ponzi scheme in 2001, Wilson became the controversial commander-in-chief of the SCV, the largest Southern heritage group in the United States. In that post, which he held from 2002 to 2004, Wilson was closely linked to prominent racists, including white supremacist attorney and one-time SCV official Kirk Lyons, and presided over the expulsion of several hundred SCV members who had protested open racism in the group’s ranks.
The current leaders of the SCV did not immediately respond to an E-mail request from Hatewatch for comment on their fallen former commander.
Court filings don’t indicate if Wilson met or lured any of his eventual customers through his connections with the SCV. Wilson also is a former member of the League of the South and the Council of Conservative Citizens, both identified as hate groups. (The League of the South seeks a second secession and a country ruled by religious “Anglo-Celts,” meaning white people; the Council of Conservative Citizens opposes “all efforts to mix the races of mankind” and has referred to black people as a “retrograde species of humanity.”)
Wilson’s public life didn’t end there. In 2005, over the objections of the state’s superintendent of education, Wilson, then an Anderson County Council member, was elected to serve on the South Carolina Board of Education, weighing in on in the approval of textbooks and curriculum for the state’s public school students.
Meanwhile, at his Greenville-based business, Wilson told customers to give him their money so he could wisely invest in silver on their behalf — silver that he claimed was being held in a depository in Delaware. Charging documents say AB&C “did not purchase silver in sufficient quantities” to match his investors’ funds and “did not have silver holdings at a depository in Delaware.” As a further part of his rip-off, Wilson “created fraudulent account statements showing that [his] clients owned large quantities of silver when, in fact, no silver had been purchased” on their behalf.
The Ponzi aspect of the swindle came when AB&C “used monies supplied by later clients to pay earlier clients” who were seeking to liquidate all or a portion of what they thought was their silver holdings. “It was further part of the scheme and artifice that Ronnie Gene Wilson converted client funds to his own use to support a lavish lifestyle,” according to a criminal information filed on April 11.
The federal charges were based on the fact that Wilson used the U.S. mail to exchange documents with two of his customers who lived in Louisville, Ky., and Acton, Mass., but aren’t otherwise publicly identified.
With the filing of the criminal case, the U.S. government moved to seek forfeiture from Wilson of 11 pieces of real property, a collection of 55 firearms, six vehicles, $292,994 in cash and a banking account; miscellaneous coins and bars, and 13 pieces of artwork or sculptures found at Wilson’s residences in Easley, S.C. The forfeiture process, once completed, will be used to pay back a small amount of restitution to the victims. The pending case against Howell also seeks forfeiture of property.