- Associated Press - Monday, April 6, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - Prosecutors called a music producer who once worked with stars including Kenny G and Whitney Houston a master manipulator Monday as they recommended he spend over two decades in prison for a Ponzi scheme that ripped off investors.

In papers filed in Manhattan federal court, prosecutors said 68-year-old Charles Huggins lived a life of luxury for nearly a decade at the expense of dozens of victims across America who trusted his promises that they would get high rates of return on investments in gold and diamonds from Sierra Leone and Liberia.

“Huggins relished in the thrill and satisfaction of stealing from innocent people and spending their hard-earned money on himself,” they wrote, saying Huggins diverted money to pay $7,200 monthly rent in Manhattan and expenses for his Mercedes Benz, restaurant tabs, expensive clothing and personal credit card bills. In all, they said he stole $8.1 million from investors, distributing some to his family.

The government said the 68-year-old Edgewater, New Jersey, resident should face between 22 years and 27 years in prison at an April 21 sentencing after his October conviction on fraud and conspiracy charges. Prosecutors said he was motivated “by an overwhelming sense of greed and entitlement.”

Lawyers for Huggins said in papers filed last week that the government unfairly characterized the case as a Ponzi scheme “when it was in reality a wholly ill-advised effort to address those who were complaining.”

As an example, they noted that Emmet Smith, a former professional football player, had complained and a settlement was reached with him. Another former football player, Kenneth Hamlin, testified for the government at trial.

The lawyers said Huggins was ailing and functionally illiterate. They say he should face no more than six years in prison. The lawyers included a video from Huggins’ ex-wife - soul singer Melba Moore - among their court submissions.

Defense lawyers also said the correct amount of loss to victims was $2.3 million and maintained that Huggins had good intentions, having secured mining licenses and traveled to Western Africa extensively.

Prosecutors said Huggins’s conspiracy began in the early 2000s after record labels he managed - Hush Productions and Orpheus Inc. in New York - hit hard times.

They said he guaranteed dozens of investors across the United States that they would profit from oil or diamonds mined in West Africa if they entrusted thousands or millions of dollars to him.

One investor testified at trial that she and her family invested $1.6 million after seeing his lavish apartment and meeting him at the midtown hotel, where he described a personal relationship with the president of Liberia and showed her diamonds.

The government said Huggins claimed no income on tax forms at the height of the fraud and continued to solicit money from investors after his arrest.

At trial, defense attorney Bryan Blaney told jurors that Huggins had done work for Houston when she was recording her first album.

Huggins’ longtime secretary, Anne Thomas, testified that Huggins’ music business had done work for Kenny G in the 1970s.

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