Tuesday, September 24, 2002

JTI exec sentenced

By Tim Ruel

Jason Tadao Ibara, 30, is one heck of a salesman. He's aggressive and he doesn't give up when rejected. He dreams of being like motivational speaker Anthony Robbins.

Unfortunately, his clients lost thousands of dollars believing in a Web-based Honolulu company that Ibara and others knew was doomed.

"I was like a hero in these people's eyes," Ibara said. But their belief went to his head, he said, and he didn't want to let investors down by telling them that the company bearing his initials, JTI, was failing.

Ibara was sentenced yesterday to 33 months in federal prison in connection with his participation in a fraudulent business scheme. He must pay $175,000 in restitution. JTI took in $1.3 million from more than 100 Hawaii and mainland investors in 2000, and victims have sought total restitution of about $551,000.

After prison, Ibara will serve three years in supervised release, and must do 250 hours of community service for each of those years, U.S. District Judge David Ezra ruled yesterday.

By his own admission, Ibara knows he did wrong and accepts his punishment. Two years ago, when he heard the FBI was looking into JTI as a possible Ponzi scheme, Ibara approached the feds and confessed.

The bottom line was that JTI had taken money from investors to try to fix a Web-based technology that was not working.

JTI promised investors an online shopping center that would provide returns of up to 20 percent, which was to come from money spent on its Web sites. Trouble is, JTI didn't have a system to track purchases, but the company kept taking on investment. Basically, a promising business turned into a "cynical deception," Ezra said.

Last year, the U.S. Attorney's Office charged Ibara with one count of wire fraud, and he pleaded guilty. Ibara has turned in information to help the FBI investigate other former JTI officials, said Ibara's attorney, Birney Bervar.

Ezra set Ibara's restitution at $175,000 because that's all the money that Ibara can reasonably be expected to pay, Ezra said. Ibara and JTI filed for bankruptcy last year, and had virtually no assets to pay debts.

Looking back, Ibara said JTI should have filed bankruptcy when he knew the firm couldn't live up to expectations.

Once he's served his sentence, Ibara said he plans to restart his business to help repay the investors in full.

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