U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson said the case against Timothy Durham was characterized by "deceit, greed and arrogance" and that Durham had violated the trust of thousands of small investors from the American Heartland.
"We drive Chevys and Buicks and Ford, not Ducatis. That's how most of us roll," Magnus-Stinson said. "When they're defrauded, it is the most serious offense because it undermines the fabric of this country."
Two of Durham's associates, James Cochran and Rick Snow, were to be sentenced later Friday.
A jury in June found the three men guilty of securities fraud and conspiracy. It also convicted Durham, a major Indiana Republican Party donor who resigned his post at National Lampoon in January, of 10 counts of wire fraud, while Cochran and Snow were convicted on some of those counts.
Prosecutors have said the three stripped Akron, Ohio-based Fair Finance of its assets and used the money to buy mansions, classic cars and other luxury items and to keep another of Durham's company afloat. The men were convicted of operating an elaborate Ponzi scheme to hide the company's depleted condition from regulators and investors, many of whom were elderly.
Durham's attorney, John Tompkins, argued at trial that Durham and the others were caught off-guard by the economic crisis of 2008, and bewildered when regulators placed them under more strict scrutiny and investors made a run on the company.
Attorneys for all three men had asked the judge for lighter sentences than those recommended. Tompkins sought a total of five years for Durham — three years in prison and two years of home detention.
Prosecutors had wanted 225 years for Durham. Magnus-Stinson said she couldn't sentence him to that much because that number would be as "puffed up" as statements that he held $280 million in assets. But she clearly showed her displeasure with Durham, telling him he had been "raised better" and noting that though he testified that he "felt terribly" for the victims, he had shown no sincere remorse.
Barbara Lukacik, 74, an Ohio nun who said she lost $125,000 in the Fair Finance collapse, said she had forgiven Durham and the others but testified before the sentencing that a lengthy sentence was warranted.
"If you receive a short sentence — a slap on the wrist, so to say — I do not think it will be enough time for your heart and your conscience to realize your sin and your greed," she said.
The charges against Durham led several GOP politicians, including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, to return hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions sought by Fair Finance's bankruptcy trustee.
Associated Press writers Rick Callahan and Ken Kusmer in Indianapolis contributed to this story.