A former linebacker for the University of Virginia was sentenced Friday to 40 years in prison for a $10 million fraud scheme that victimized more than 60 people.
It was the second time Judge John Gibney Jr. imposed a four-decade prison term on Merril Robertson Jr., 39. The one-time Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings recruit successfully overturned his first conviction at trial because of public comments the judge made about his lack of honesty.
After a second trial last year, he was convicted again. Victims testified Robertson used family, football, school and religious relationships to perpetuate an investment and loan scheme with an associate, Sherman Carl Vaughn. Vaughn pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He and Robertson claimed the money was going into frozen yogurt and pizza franchises; in fact most of it they spent on themselves, including luxury trips, cars and private school tuition.
Half the money came from an elderly man showing signs of dementia, according to court records. One victim was forced to sell his home; another declared bankruptcy.
After his first trial, Robertson briefly became involved in the “sovereign citizen” movement, telling victims he could repay them with promissory notes backed by millions in U.S. Treasury bonds. (Sovereign citizens generally believe the law does not apply to them because the U.S. government was taken over by corporate, international interests, and as part of that scheme every American was given a secret Treasury account at birth.)
“There are no assets to seize. The money is gone,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo. “Merrill Robertson and Carl Vaughn have zero ability to earn it back. And many of these victims are at an age where they cannot possibly recover what they have lost.”
Defense attorneys argued Robertson had “unrealistic optimism” about his own business potential and made “the mistakes of someone in extreme and difficult circumstances.”