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Man who bilked $100M from investors flees California prison

SEATTLE (AP) - A Washington state man who bilked investors out of more than $100 million in a Ponzi scheme has escaped from a federal prison in central California, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.

Prison officials said Frederick Darren Berg, 55, was discovered missing Wednesday from a minimum-security work camp next to a penitentiary in Atwater, California, The Seattle Times reported.

Berg in 2012 was sentenced in federal court in Seattle to 18 years after pleading guilty to wire fraud, money laundering and bankruptcy fraud. Prosecutors said at the time that it was the largest fraud scheme they had prosecuted in Western Washington.

Berg used investment funds from his company, Meridian Group, to buy two Lear jets, several yachts and million-dollar condos and homes in Washington state and California over the course of a decade, federal prosecutors have said.

They said that between 2001 and 2009, Berg used more than $100 million in funds from over 800 investors for his own benefit and to keep his investment fraud scheme going. He used investor money to pay off the loans of earlier investors in order to continue his scheme to defraud, court records show.

FBI agents said when he was sentenced that Berg took advantage of hopeful investors, many senior citizens, and that many suffered emotional and financial pain because of his fraud.

His defense attorneys said in court papers that Berg wanted to resolve this case and take full responsibility for his actions.

Berg was arrested in 2010 in Los Angeles.

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