AP NEWS

Man who took Alabama town for $1.9M sentenced to 5 years

March 26, 2019
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FILE - In this March 31, 2015 photo provided by Art Meripol, Kyle Sandler poses for a photo at The Round House in Opelika, Ala. A federal judge on Tuesday, March 26, 2019, sentenced Sandler, who pleaded guilty to scamming an Alabama city, to spend 63 months in prison and ordered him to return $1.9 million to investors. (Art Meripol via AP, File)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The founder of business incubator who pleaded guilty to scamming residents of an Alabama city was sentenced Tuesday to more than five years in prison and ordered to return $1.9 million to investors.

Kyle Sandler, 43, opened the Round House in 2014 as a launching pad for new tech companies in the east Alabama town of Opelika (Oh-puh-LIE-kuh), raising about $1.9 million from more than 70 investors. He pleaded guilty last year to fraud.

U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin said Sandler “violated the trust of his investors with lies and deception.”

“They trusted him with their hard-earned money, and he used it as his personal piggybank,” Franklin said.

Sandler told The Associated Press in a series of telephone interviews from jail that he falsely portrayed himself as a one-time Google executive and acted out of greed. He said he used John McAfee, who developed early internet security software, and Taylor Rosenthal, a teen who had an idea for a new kind of first aid vending machine, to help gain publicity for his operation.

Chuck Wacker, who invested with Sandler, urged U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins at the sentencing hearing last month to impose the maximum sentence possible. Wacker said he was particularly concerned that Sandler exploited a teen investor to lure investors.

Wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and shackles last month, Sandler told Watkins that he would dedicate the rest of his life to repaying his victims.

“I’m disgusted with myself,” Sandler told the judge. “I’m blessed with a certain amount of intelligence. I used it to hurt people and take their money.”

Watkins, who handed down the 63-month sentence Tuesday in Montgomery federal court, said Sandler had expressed “good intentions.”

“Your job from this day forward is to make your actions align with your words,” Watkins told him.