An accountant could face up to 25 years in federal prison after pleading guilty Friday to embezzling tens of millions of dollars from a wealthy Chicago family and using the money to finance a luxurious lifestyle that included more than two dozen homes, private jets, yachts and a Lamborghini luxury car dealership.
Sultan Issa also admitted in a plea agreement with federal prosecutors that he stole millions more from from individual investors, including $500,000 from a widow who trusted him to invest funds from her dead husband’s estate.
In all, Issa admitted to stealing at least $65 million over a seven-year period, but prosecutors warned that they were still tabulating the losses and the final number could go even higher.
Dressed in a dark gray suit and blue striped tie, Issa, 46, of Hinsdale, told U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood that he’s been seeing a psychologist and is taking daily prescription medication to treat his anxiety and depression.
When the judge asked him to say in his own words what he did wrong, Issa, who pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud, cleared his throat and said in a clear voice, “I just basically lied to a lot of people.”
Wood set sentencing for May 21. With such extensive losses, Issa faces about 20 to 25 years in prison under preliminary sentencing guidelines.
For years, Issa served as the personal accountant for banker and philanthropist Roger Weston, a life trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago, where a wing of the museum bears his name.
According to the plea agreement, Issa began embezzling from the family’s funds in 2010 by forging signatures to gain control of assets and providing banks with fraudulent documents to secure millions of dollars in loans for himself.
One of the accounts Issa stole from was a trust fund that Weston had set up explicitly to pay for his mother’s treatment while she was “suffering from an incapacitating illness,” the plea deal said.
The plea agreement refers to Weston only as Individual A, but details in the court record confirm he was the victim.
For more than seven years, ending in October 2017, Issa regularly lied to Weston about the status of the family’s assets and cooked the books to make it look like investments were earning money, authorities said.
Instead, Issa was using tens of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains to buy 25 residential properties in Illinois, Montana, Michigan, and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, as well as two private jets, four yachts, about 60 firearms,and numerous watches and jewelry. according to the plea agreement.
Among the Chicago properties Issa bought during the scheme were three condos in the Trump Tower in Chicago, real estate records show. The shell company he set up to purchase them was called Combover LLC -- an apparent jab at President Donald Trump’s hairstyle.
The plea agreement said Sultan sank another $15 million in stolen funds to pay expenses for Global Luxury Imports, a dealership he owned in Burr Ridge that sold Lamborghinis and other luxury vehicles. According to a 2012 news release, the dealership housed the bulletproof 1979 Rolls-Royce that Princess Diana and Prince Charles used during visits to Washington, D.C., in the 1980s.
The dealership has since closed, records show.
The charges also alleged Issa used his position to solicit at least another $8.8 million from individual investors by claiming he would invest their money in legitimate opportunities.
In April 2016, prosecutors said, Issa convinced a widow to give him $500,000 to invest even though he knew she “was unusually vulnerable due to the recent loss of her husband." Instead, Issa used the funds “in furtherance of his ongoing scheme to defraud,” according to the plea deal.
Weston, from Winnetka, sold Lisle-based GreatBanc to Charter One for $180 million, according to reports in Crain’s Chicago Business. A collector of Asian art, Weston became a life trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009 and has donated many pieces to the museum.
Weston sued Issa in Cook County Circuit Court in 2018 seeking $100 million in damages, court records show. Weston claimed in a separate suit that Issa forged his name on bank documents as collateral to obtain a $5 million loan using antique Chinese ceramics and other artwork owned by Weston. The lawsuits are pending.