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— None of this deception was apparent in his pitches to investors. One investor, Larry Peltz, said that Bickerstaff "could analyze and understand financial markets in the most brilliant and convincing way. You will never, ever meet a person who can lie so convincingly and pretend to have such empathy." Bickerstaff told Peltz that he would take care of Peltz's mother. "I guess I was naive," Peltz recalled, "but I never imagined someone pretending to be [my] friend and then blatantly lying and stealing from [me]." Peltz and his mother lost more than $100,000.

In charge of the Rancho Bernardo office was Daniel Armentrout. He quit working for Bickerstaff in 1997 when he discovered that his boss had been lying about his education and his licenses. At the end of the trial, Armentrout said, "There is no sentence that could make up for all the pain and anguish his clients have gone through."

Former assistant U.S. attorney Robert Crowe, who prosecuted Bickerstaff, told me that of the money Bickerstaff stole, only "six cents on the dollar" was recovered. Thus, Bickerstaff's sentence included a restitution order of $10.5 million, which was later enlarged by an award from a civil lawsuit. The total amount has grown, with interest, by 6 percent per year. In 1998, the interest was a bit more than $50,000 per month. Bickerstaff now owes more than $17 million. His payments are a statutory "reasonable percentage" of his monthly income; though Bickerstaff is presently unemployed, he is paying $150 a month.

"The likelihood that I'll ever pay that off," he says, "is very remote."

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