Richmond developer Justin French sentenced to 16 years

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - He stole millions of your tax dollars. Now, the once prominent Richmond developer, Justin French, is behind bars.

A federal judge sentenced French this morning to 16 years in prison for a multi-million dollar tax scheme.

Richmond was the city that made Justin French rich. It's the place where he scammed federal and state programs to rehab properties. And it's the place where he cheated more than 100 people out of at least $11 million. He's in jail, serving the first day of a 16 year sentence.

Homes, apartments, abandoned warehouses -- Justin French renovating them all. At the same time he was inflating the cost of construction and stealing money for agencies who give tax breaks to get older buildings developed.

In court French said, "I truly regret all of the actions I took, that I created and allowed my self to be a part of."

John Honey is French's attorney. "He's extremely sorry for what occurred. He's doing everything he can to make it right," he said.

French took the tax credits he got from the government and sold them to more than 100 investors. Using their money to feed his lavish lifestyle.

"Which included a beach house a mansion, a private jet, fancy art, and frequent trips to Las Vegas over a hundred investors lost their life savings, their retirement funds, they're medical care accounts," said U.S. Attorney, Neil MacBride.

Prosecutors and State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli say it was all about greed. "Yes, other properties were rehabilitated, but frankly from my perspective, that was part of a cover to commit the fraud."

Judge John Gibney gave French two years above what prosecutors were asking, citing French's prior conviction on a guns for drugs scheme in the 1990s. He called the scheme "sophisticated" and "coldly calculated."

The judge scolded French for his extravagant lifestyle and said of his charitable endeavors, "I believe those efforts were part and parcel of Mr. French's need to be a big man around Richmond."

"Mr. French's property, his homes, his art collection, vehicles... you name it we will try and forfeit it," MacBride said.

French will be back in federal court in July where the judge will decide how much restitution he owes his victims. French is still talking to the feds, they are still investigating and more charges are still possible.

Once French is released from prison he will be on three years supervised probation and will never again be allowed to work in real estate.

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