By Ogozi John
Former strip club owner and magazine publisher, Selim “Sam” Zherka, has been sentenced to 37 months in prison for charges of making false witness to a bank and filing materially false tax returns.
Zherka, 48, of Somers, NY., who pleaded guilty to the charges in September 2014, has been held in custody since then since his bail application was denied. While handing him the sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Seibel described Mr. Zherka as a man with two different personalities; that of a gangster, and that of an upstanding citizen.
Zherka will serve an additional three years of supervised release after he leaves prison. He was also ordered to pay a fine of $1.5 million, apart from the $5.23 million that he agreed to forfeit as part of his plea deal, and he will also have to pay another $1.2 million in back taxes, interest and penalties to New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and the federal government.
Prosecutors had pushed for a tougher sentence on Zherka, who faced a maximum of five years in prison. His attorney asked for a lesser sentence of 20 months, citing the difficult conditions he had already been subjected to while being detained at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.
Seibel decided on a sentence that satisfies the strong arguments given by both sides.
“He is clearly a hard working man,” she said of Zherka, who had the support of about two dozen family members and friends in the crowded courtroom.
Zherka apologized and said he was embarrassed, and also asked Seibel to consider his good deeds, too.
Many people had written letters to Seibel pointing to Zharka’s generosity, including helping his parents and siblings to move from the former Yugoslavia to the United States.
“It’s an American success story,” she said, while also deriding him for not conducting his business honestly but choosing to get involved in a “breathtaking string of lies.”
Starting in December 2005, Zharka and four of his partners, all of whom had also pleaded guilty to fraud charges, engaged in a scheme to fraudulently obtain $63.5 million in loans from Sovereign Bank, now Santander, to be used for the purchase or refinancing apartment complexes in Tennessee.
Zharka also filed fraudulent tax returns that overstated depreciation expenses and understated his capital gains, thereby reducing his tax liabilities.
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