U.S. District Judge Matthew T. Schelp on Tuesday sentenced a Missouri man who bilked investors out of $1.2 million to four years in prison and ordered him to repay the money.
Harish Sunkara, 51, of Fenton, falsely told investors that he had won contracts with the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport worth between $750,000 and $950,000. His company, Pace Solutions, had won a $49,500 contract to provide the airport with IT training software. But from Sept. 2, 2020, through at least Nov. 16, 2021, Sunkara used forged, altered, and fraudulent versions of the legitimate contract documents, including the forged signature of the airport’s contract administrator, to dupe investors.
In what Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Wiseman called a “long-running scheme to defraud,” six investors lost amounts ranging from $51,800 to $645,000, for a total of $1,271,800.
On multiple occasions when investors wired him money, he sent all or part of it to Las Vegas casinos. Between 2020 and 2021, Sunkara spent at least $5.5 million at casinos in eastern Missouri and Nevada.
Sunkara was taken into custody in the courtroom to begin serving his sentence.
Sunkara pleaded guilty in August to two counts of aggravated identity theft.
“Harish Sunkara knowingly defrauded and stole money from people who trusted him. For his selfish greed, he received the ultimate payment of four years in federal prison,” said Special Agent in Charge Jay Greenberg of the FBI St. Louis Division. “Unfortunately, fraudsters exploit people they already know because of the existing trust. This type of tactic is so common, it is known as ‘affinity fraud.’ “
The case was investigated by the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Wiseman is prosecuting the case.