Thomas Qualls, man who bilked investors then fled, gets 17 years

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A Long Island fraudster who bilked investors out of $1 million and then fled to Canada at the end of his trial in 2008 was sentenced to 171/2 years in prison in federal court in Brooklyn yesterday.

Thomas Qualls, 45, convicted of ripping off customers through International Foreign Currency Inc. of Garden City, was ordered by U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry to serve 150 months for fraud, 60 months for bail jumping, and pay $817,000 in restitution.

His lawyer, Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, said psychiatric experts had found that Qualls' fraud stemmed in part from a delusional disorder, but Irizarry declined to hold a hearing on the extent to which mental issues played a role in the crime.

"I think the sentence is really excessive in light of typical fraud sentences and his mental illness," Margulis-Ohnuma said. "We're exploring avenues of appeal."

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Qualls, formerly a resident of Bellmore and Long Beach, was convicted in absentia in 2008 just before the end of his trial on an indictment for defrauding customers by promising high returns on a foreign currency deal.

He was accused of spending stolen money on a Caribbean cruise, pet care and payments on a Jaguar sports car.

Qualls was captured in Montreal in 2009 and jailed on a fugitive warrant, but resisted extradition back to the United States until 2012. Margulis-Ohnuma said he has already served about five years. "This case shows, once again, that you can run, but you cannot hide," Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement after the sentencing.

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