A former San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputy who funded an extravagant lifestyle with $5.6 million he bilked from victims in investment scams pleaded guilty to federal charges and could face up to 20 years in prison, authorities said Tuesday.
Christopher Burnell, 51, of Highland, entered pleas Monday to 11 counts of wire fraud and two counts of filing a false tax return, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.
Burnell, a former deputy with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, claimed to be a wealthy businessman who made tens of millions of dollars from lawsuits against the Sheriff’s Department and the Kaiser Permanente health care chain, from selling a patent for an air-cooled bullet-resistant vest and through various investments, prosecutors said.
Burnell promised some victims that if they invested their money with him, they could earn 100% returns in weeks, prosecutors said.
But instead of investing the money, Burnell blew more than $2 million gambling at a local casino, spent $500,000 on private jet trips and hundreds of thousands of dollars buying luxury goods for his then-girlfriends, court documents said.
The fraud lasted from late 2010 through late 2017, ending when Burnell couldn’t find new victims and the money ran out, prosecutors said.
Burnell could face up to 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud and up to three years in prison for each tax count when he is sentenced on Aug. 15, prosecutors said.