May 23 (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a former Las Vegas medical billing company operator who prosecutors called the ringleader of a $1.5 billion Ponzi scheme that bilked thousands of Japanese residents to 50 years in prison.
Edwin Fujinaga, 72, the former chief executive of MRI International Inc, was sentenced by Chief Judge Gloria Navarro of the Nevada federal court, following his conviction last November on 20 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering.
Fujinaga was also ordered to forfeit $813.3 million and make $1.13 billion of restitution, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. His trial lasted four weeks.
Prosecutors had sought the 50-year term, while federal public defenders representing Fujinaga said five years were enough, citing his age and health. The public defenders did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
According to prosecutors, Fujinaga and his associates promised investors they would buy unpaid patient bills from medical companies at a discount and recoup the full value later from insurers.
Instead, prosecutors said they used new money to repay earlier investors, while Fujinaga spent some investor funds on private jet travel, expensive real estate, and Bentley, Bugatti and McLaren luxury vehicles.
The alleged scheme ran from 2009 to 2013, prosecutors said.
In April, Japan extradited Junzo Suzuki and his son Paul to each face 17 mail and wire fraud counts related to MRI, where they worked as Asia-Pacific executive vice president and general manager for Japan operations, respectively.
The cases is U.S. v. Fujinaga et al, U.S. District Court, District of Nevada, No. 15-cr-00198. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in Chicago; editing by Diane Craft)