Former UVA football player convicted in $10M scheme

Richmond Federal Courthouse

Richmond Federal Courthouse

A former L.C. Bird High School football standout and ex-UVA linebacker was found guilty Thursday for his role in defrauding dozens of investors out of millions of dollars for nearly seven years.

Merrill Robertson Jr., 36, was convicted by a jury in Richmond federal court on all 15 counts he faced, which included charges of mail fraud, bank fraud and money laundering. The charges stemmed from a scheme carried out by Robertson and his former business partner, Sherman Carl Vaughn Jr., through which they obtained more than $10 million from 50 investors and spent most of it on personal expenses or to repay previous investors.

Vaughn, who pleaded guilty to similar charges and testified against Robertson, now faces up to 20 years in federal prison. Robertson faces up to 330 years, though the sentence likely will be far less. He’ll be sentenced by Judge John Gibney on Dec. 6.

Robertson’s verdict followed a nine-day trial that included testimony by his victims and alleged co-conspirators. The witness list and victims list included Robertson’s former high school basketball coach and one of his former football coaches at UVA.

Robertson took the witness stand earlier this week, as did Vaughn. The two raised money through their Midlothian-based company Cavalier Union Investments.

The case was prosecuted by Katherine Lee Martin from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which argued that Robertson used connections he developed playing football at Fork Union Military Academy, UVA and contacts he made in the NFL to solicit investors, before spending their money on mortgage and car payments, school tuitions, spa visits, restaurants, department stores and vacations.

Robertson was represented by Patrick Hanes and Jonathan Lucier of Williams Mullen, who were serving as public defenders. They tried to paint Robertson as a victim of Vaughn’s misdeeds and a hardworking guy who did not set out to defraud anyone.

Hanes described Vaughn as a mentor and older-brother figure to Robertson, describing Vaughn’s relationship with Robertson as a “puppet master.”

Robertson remains in federal custody until sentencing. He had been allowed to remain free prior to the verdict, until Monday during trial when Judge Gibney revoked Robertson’s bond and ordered him into custody.

Robertson’s attorneys later in the week filed a motion for a mistrial, arguing there was potential that jurors were exposed to news reports about the judge’s decision to revoke Robertson’s bond and his related comments about Robertson in the courtroom. That motion was denied.

Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Hanes said Robertson is “obviously disappointed in the verdict.

“He hasn’t made any kind of decisions about an appeal,” Hanes said.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a prepared statement after the verdict, “Behind every lie is a choice.

“Mr. Robertson lied to his friends and mentors, and many times had the opportunity to come clean and tell the truth. Instead, he chose to continue his lies and fraud, which had devastating effects on his victims.”

In addition to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the case was worked by the criminal investigation division of the IRS, the FBI’s Richmond field office, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Virginia SCC Division of Securities and Retail Franchising.

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