The swindle always began with a flashy show of wealth and the mention of a well-known celebrity who was an investor. And it always ended with a victim losing their life savings.
Along the way, Sean T. Johnson, 42, of Dallas, tailored his con based on the gender, age and lifestyle of his mark, prosecutors said.
He would claim to be involved in financing major events, like a party in Washington for the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, a world tour by the singer Rihanna and even the much-hyped 2015 fight between boxing champs Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
If Johnson’s target was able to invest even a few thousand dollars, he promised they could get rich too. To make it look legit, prosecutors said Johnson would have his “assistant” send over a written promissory note, boasting that they would make back as much as 40% on their investment in a few months.
But according to federal authorities, there was no assistant and Johnson wasn’t involved in staging any events — the money went right into his pockets.
Last week, he was sentenced to a decade behind bars for ripping off over a dozen victims to the tune of $1 million. Some victims lost tens of thousands of dollars and others several hundred thousand.
“For over ten years, the defendant made his living swindling people out of money – lots of people and lots of money,” prosecutors wrote in court papers arguing for the stiffest sentence possible. “He was a professional con-man who used his good-natured and seemingly relaxed personality to endear himself to unsuspecting people and gained their confidence through a mix of friendly banter and schoolyard braggadocio.”
Johnson’s lawyer didn’t return a call seeking comment. His client has been behind bars since he was arrested in 2018. He pleaded guilty in 2019.
Prosecutors say Johnson targeted people from all walks of life, including a sophisticated real estate investor in Miami, a Washington D.C. limo company owner and a London fashion model and her family.
Johnson presented himself as an extremely wealthy businessman, often wearing high-end suits, arriving places in a chauffeur-driven black Rolls Royce and plunking down for expensive bottle service at the most exclusive nightclubs, according to court filings.
He’d claim he was friends with celebrities like rapper Jay-Z. He’d show victims photos of him with Floyd Mayweather and say they were in business together. He claimed financier Carl Icahn had been his mentor and taught him everything he knew. Johnson would talk about his 12-bedroom mansion outside of Atlanta or his penthouse apartment in New York.
None of it was true, prosecutors said, and all the trappings of wealth Johnson showed had been paid for with money he had stolen from others.
“Once the defendant won over his victim, he typically moved in on their weakness – a young man with a little extra cash who wanted to turn it into a nest egg; a successful man who didn’t have time to turn his well-earned money into a larger pile of cash; or, more sadly, a woman who sought romance and companionship, but was taken instead for all her savings,” prosecutors said.
In one case, he invited an El Paso, Texas real estate agent to sit courtside at a San Antonio Spurs playoff game, but had her front the money for the tickets and then never paid her back, court filings said. He had convinced her to invest thousands more in an event around the NCAA tournament that turned out to be a charade.
Prosecutors say many of Johnson’s victims lost their life savings, had their credit ruined or were forced into foreclosure or bankruptcy as a result of his schemes.