The federal judge imposed the maximum sentence on James Lewis Jr. for running a $311 million scheme that defrauded about 1,600 people over nearly two decades.

Lewis pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering and one count of mail fraud last October. Prosecutors agreed to drop 12 of 14 counts in exchange for the pleas.

Former investor Collene Campbell testified she and her husband lost the money they were saving for a down payment on their granddaughter's first home, a grandson's college savings and the contents of a scholarship fund established in memory of another grandson, who died in 2001.

"James Lewis did not make a mistake in investing our money, he didn't invest it at all. ... He just stole it," Campbell said, fighting back tears. "We are suffering and yet all those thousands of nights (Lewis) could sleep and carouse while he was sucking the life blood from his victims."

"As long as you're able to raise money and keep paying the promised annual or monthly payments, you can keep going until you implode," Kane said. "And Mr. Lewis was about to implode when he was arrested."

Lewis told investors he was earning returns of 18 percent to 40 percent by leasing medical equipment, financing purchases of medical insurance, making commercial loans and buying and selling distressed businesses.

But prosecutors alleged that instead Lewis was using money from new investors to pay off the original ones -- something known as a Ponzi scheme.

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