Charles Ruhl Jr. said Friday that he stole from his real estate company to "save" it.

The 59-year-old commercial real estate developer from a prominent Davenport family gave a statement before a federal judge sentenced him to 12 months and a day in prison for wire fraud and money laundering.

"Today is about my illegal attempt to save partners after the recent economic crisis," Ruhl said.

He pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a four-year scheme to steal $1.3 million from dozens of investors. Ruhl said Friday that he took the money to "keep up appearances" that he and his company, Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial, had dodged an economic crisis that was ruining others in the industry.

The success of his partners, investors and employees depended on that appearance, he said.

"I wanted to ensure it would work out for them," he said.

He admitted using some of the money for his "own use."

Documents state that he paid property tax on a vacation home in Michigan, for maintenance on a personal plane and for his daughter's college tuition using money he took from the company.

His was not the usual embezzlement case, U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose said. He was not feeding a gambling addiction, she added.

"Yours was an appearance issue," she said.

Rose said she was "troubled" that Ruhl perpetrated the scheme after being caught once before, got away with it for a long time, roped other employees into it and tried to cover up his actions by falsifying records.

Prosecutor John Keller called Ruhl a "millionaire who takes money that's not his."

Ruhl's attorney, Leon Spies, said it was the "disastrous" financial climate of 2008 that "got Mr. Ruhl in this courtroom."

Ruhl's court statement was the first time he had spoken publicly on the case. He apologized to the judge for his handwritten note and then cleared his throat before uttering a few words about how he had embarrassed himself, his family and his company.

The sentencing hearing lasted five hours.

Agents from the IRS and FBI testified with the help of 26 government exhibits.

IRS special agent Mike Thole said Ruhl's earliest recorded unlawful transaction occurred in February 2008 with a withdrawal of $35,000 from Lincoln Healthcare Building LLC, an account Ruhl managed.

Ruhl continued to falsify financial statements to conceal money he withdrew from other investors, Thole said. Ruhl also illegally withdrew from other accounts, including Caxton on Bass St. LLC, Biaggi's West Des Moines LLC and Crow Valley Park Venture LLC.

Three of the properties are in the Quad-Cities. Lincoln Healthcare and Crow Valley Park Venture are in Bettendorf. Caxton on Bass St. is in Moline.

Ruhl assured investors "nothing improper" was going on, Thole testified.

Throughout Friday's testimony, Ruhl leafed through stacks of documents and scribbled notes to his attorney. Fewer than 10 people observed the courtroom procedures.

Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial is a separate entity from Ruhl & Ruhl Realtors, the Davenport-based residential real estate company.

One Ruhl & Ruhl Commerical employee testified for the defense.

Charles Ruhl hired Bonnie Voelkers as chief financial officer in December 2012 because he told her the economy had hurt the business and he wanted her to get it back on its feet.

"I found a huge mess," she testified.

Voelkers said that during her first week on the job, Ruhl asked her to complete a transaction between Caxton on Bass St. LLC and Lincoln Healthcare Building LLC.

She was confused by the request and asked her predecessor to come into the office. During the visit, Voelkers discovered a file folder with a stack of loan promissory notes in a desk drawer that related to the different LLC accounts. Some of the notes were not signed, she testified.

Voelkers testified that the notes tied to a general ledger and that “there was no question about what had been borrowed.”

She confronted Ruhl about the notes.

“I’m a very honest person, and I always do the correct thing,” she said.

Ruhl told her that as the operating manager of the company, he had the right to borrow money against his own equity. He also promised her that he would get things straightened out by May, she testified.

Voelkers then went through the financial documents and tracked Ruhl's distributions to the accounts, which was $4.4 million, some of which was money from Ruhl’s company, and pulled all the promissory notes that were stored in the company’s internal server.

All the notes were time-stamped, and many of them were created on or around the day that the money was transferred, she testified.

Voelkers said Ruhl did not discourage her from straightening out the ledgers and notes.

The FBI raided the offices of Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial in May. Voelkers was surprised by the raid because “we had already fixed it,” and money had already been paid back to the accounts, she testified.

Keller asked her about an August 2012 financial statement that was sent to investors in which Ruhl asked her to include and then take off the amount of money he owed to the account.

Voelkers testified that Ruhl asked her to “reverse the fix,” meaning that he changed his mind about including the loan information on the statement.

FBI agent Jeff Huber testified that two of Ruhl's employees resigned when they found out about the scheme.

Two former accountants with Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial were "uncomfortable" with Ruhl's activity, Huber said. One resigned because she did not want any part in it.

Vicki Diamond resigned as CFO out of stress when she learned that certain funds coming out of partnership accounts were not being disclosed to partners, Thole testified.

Judge Rose called Ruhl's scheme a "shell game" that got out of control.

Spies said Ruhl had every intention of paying back the loans and has done so.

Ruhl has sold his company. As a result of the conviction, he has lost his real estate licenses in Iowa and Illinois.

Spies said Ruhl has "lost it all."

As Ruhl walked out of the courthouse alone, carrying an accordion folder under his arm, he responded, "yeah," when asked if he was glad that the case is over.

(30) comments

JK3513

Not uncommon in federal cases where a person has been released on bond, to make them surrender themselves to the facility where they are designated by the Bureau of Prisons on a date ordered by the judge at the sentencing hearing.

The idea is to save taxpayer money on housing them while the BOP completes the designation process and making them pay for their own transportation.

Anytime a prisoner is transported you need to pay at least 2 deputies in addition to gas, vehicle, meals, etc.

Not a Ruhl fan, but no special treatment for him in doing this.

Also, just because he requested a prison, does not mean the BOP will put him there. All federal convicts ask for a particular facility. BOP will oblige if there are no problems in doing so. They will not make room for him if the facility is full or put him there if the bed is better used by someone else.

granny

Why wasn't this guy taken into custody when he was sentenced? My son got himself in a legal mess 25 years ago and as soon as he was sentenced he was handcuffed and led from the courtroom. From that moment he was a guest of the legal system in Iowa. Even though these were federal charges it doesn't seem right that he should just walk out like he hadn't done anything wrong. And are you saying HE gets to decide where he does his time???!!! What a crock!

WhoMe

Thanks for the link Mel lll. For those who don't know, Chris Beason is Caroline Ruhl's son. Now why does the Times feel they must report a falsehood by saying the two companies are unrelated?Advertising dollars or the fact that Caroline was once married to a Times Editor in Chief?

msmuir31

See, that is what gets so many of us today. One set of rules for everyday folks, one set for "prominent" people with connections.

But, after all, Ruhl is a broken man. Ha. His smiling face shows how broken he is.

A good man would have restructure under bankruptcy laws that were good enough for major car companies and such, but oh, no....this clown had to steal.

The Voice of Reason

Not lost on me that Mel III is Mel Foster III.

Anonymous for safety

He is unrepentant and therefore shows he should have gotten a longer sentence.
For those of you who feel justice is served, no he did not pay everyone back, there are many that he did creative accounting and lost money. He has been doing creative accounting long before the recession. The fact that he blames the recession shows he is unrepentant. He was leveraged long before the recession trying to make himself even richer. When cash flow dipped he was then caught taking too much risk. He would not have shared his gains with his employees, his partners, but only his losses.

ddp

it's highly unlikely that he could survive in a real prison...

msmuir31

baloney!

Uncle Joe's cousin

http://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/money-and-power/white-collar-prisons.

Yankton Prison - Where Chuck wants to go was ranked in Town and Country as one of the Top 5 Best Prisons for White Collar criminals.. White-collar cons can take classes in accounting, business administration and business management. Since when do criminals get to decide where they go to jail ? He should go to Iowa state penitentiary. The fact that he has ZERO remorse is pathetic. He embezzled to SAVE the company? The company definitely would have gone belly up without his private jet and vacation home. The guy needs to pass go, head straight to a real jail..and NOT collect his $200.

iowalittledog

Okay, here I go again. get ready to call me a racist, but how many of you think he would have received the same sentence if he were black? Let's see how honest people will be.

Shef

Jesse Jackson jr only got 30 months. His wife only got 1 year. They straight up stole the money and did not pay any back.

M404

Read the sentencing details...no wonder he's smiling. The fine: pocket change. The prison: a minimum-security country-club. The date that he starts his "prison"-sentence: Undetermined/four to eight weeks. Guess it's better to be rich and white instead of poor and black.

Mel III

http://www.rejournals.com/2013/12/17/nai-ruhl-commercial-company-debuts-in-quad-cities-area-of-iowa-and-illinois/

They are not independent. The operating agreement is where all the facts are-and to be sure, an LLC, PC, S-Corp, et al, can have any number of members or investors...cross ownership is the structure this family business prefers.

Hereandhere

No mug shot as I believe he was never taken into custody when charged.

TPOREILLY

He, Chuck didnt build anything. Just a privelaged brat. He has not business sense and has probably stole more than what he got busted for? And he gets one year? Not a very charitable guy either,

MsMatch

In all fairness, why didn't the Times use his mug shot? The picture they used looks like he's receiving some kind of award. I see the Times use mug shots of people all the time. A crime is a crime.

Klaatu
Klaatu

He paid the money back, a substantial fine, ruined his reputation, and he gets a year and a day incarceration. I think that serves justice.

zetar

Nobody is surprised that Klaatu is defending the privileged, white 'job creator'.

msmuir31

Not about white or black, it is about BUMS of whatever color and socio-econ status.

There are many prominent folks around here of upper and less privileged classes who are appalled by this behavior....and really don't get all squishy inside when a newspaper assumes or natters on about one family or another's status. Guess it makes the writers feel good? It is suspicious that w/o real estate listings most newspapers would be printed in all red!

msmuir31

he is the WORST kind of criminal and justice was NOT served. He should be in a real prison, not a country club where taxpayers pay the dues. What a rotten case.

Prominent family...47K taxbill for a MI manse! Sick.

And those condoners who sent nice letters to the court. WELL done cronies.

46IAHWK

The disclaimer is warranted and welcomed. If you owned a business that you spent years building with integrity and hard work and someone that had the same name as you in a similar business is found guilty of these crimes, I'd want people to know there is absolutely no association with him and my business whatsoever. Everyone is not as perceptive and bright as you, Mr. Head, in order to understand this without it being pointed out.

ttdad

The family has a vacation home there, why else?

finch

Well, we know he didn't make it on his looks…. Nice pictures, Chuckie.

pta mom

Why South Dakota?

georgeandersonxyz

And going to a correctional facility too soon could really wreak havoc with my social schedule. How about i go home for now and come back in a few months if/when i'm ready?

georgeandersonxyz

Well if it's all the same to you, Your Honor, i'd really prefer vacationing at Club Fed in the Dakotas. Hear the golf course is well maintained, an excellent wine list, and they have the best Chef.

Jack S

I don't believe the runway at Club Fed in the Dakotas will accommodate his jet George........

georgeandersonxyz

Well maybe he can steal some more money and build a runway. After all, he only has to pay $3000.00 and serve 7.62 days for every time he steals.

Richard H
Richard H

Why this disclaimer? Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial is a separate entity from Ruhl & Ruhl Realtors, the Davenport-based residential company.

News is news. Should we expect little editorials after each article, so we as readers don't get confused and think your advertisers may be involved in criminal activity?
DH

Miles W Rich
Miles W Rich

The reason for the disclaimer is most readers are not familiar with the fact that Carolyn owns the residential realty company and has nothing to do with the commercial side. I am surprised he would claim taking money to pay for college tuition or home mortgage payments saved the company. Really surprised.

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