James Hankins Jr., 40, of Island Heights, pleaded guilty this week to charges that he defrauded thirty-six Monmouth County and Ocean County investors out of over six million dollars. It is unclear if Hankins’ New Jersey criminal defense attorneys plan an appeal of his conviction.
Hankins operated what is known as a “Ponzi” scheme, where a criminal entices unwitting investors to turn over their money, but instead of actually investing the money, the criminal simply pays older investors with the money gained from newer investors, always taking the lion’s share for himself. In Hankins’ Ponzi scheme, he stole money from Ocean County residents of Toms River, Lakehurst, Point Pleasant, Island Heights, and Lavallette; and Monmouth County residents in Freehold, Howell, Wall, Ocean Township, Middletown, Spring Lake, Spring Lake Heights, Red Bank, West Long Branch, and Little Sliver. The illegal operation was conducted for over seven years until Hankins was arrested in 2008.
The funds were supposed to be invested in life insurance policies, but Hankins simply pocketed most of the cash, spending it on a lavish lifestyle that included a nearly 4 million dollar estate in Florida, fine wines, private jets, and lavish jewelry.
Hankins appeared before Ocean County Judge Francis Hodgson to plead guilty to money laundering, failure to file a tax evasion, and fraud. In a combined prosecution, prosecutors from Monmouth and Ocean County will recommend the defendant be sentenced to 20 years in New Jersey State Prison, with a 10-year period of parole ineligibility pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement. The defendant must also repay the victims in Monmouth and Ocean County he defrauded. If found guilty after trial, Hankins may have been exposed to fifty years in New Jersey State Prison.