By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former Wall Street executive Andrew Caspersen was sentenced on Friday to four years in prison for engaging in what prosecutors say was a Ponzi-like scheme to defraud investors including family members and friends out of $38.5 million.
Caspersen, who worked at a unit of investment banker Paul Taubman's PJT Partners Inc before his arrest in March, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan after pleading guilty to charges including securities fraud.
Prosecutors sought up to 15-2/3 years in prison for the Princeton University and Harvard Law School graduate, who they said for 18 months shamelessly exploited his victims' trust.
But Paul Shechtman, his lawyer, urged Rakoff to consider as a mitigating factor Caspersen's "pathological" gambling addiction that led him to obtain millions of dollars to engage in risky options trading.
"I was willing to do anything to continue, and eventually I did," Caspersen, 40, said in court.
After hearing from testimony from an expert in gambling addition, Rakoff agreed Caspersen's condition impacted his decision making. He called the lengthy prison term prosecutors pushed "absurd."
"No purpose will be served by letting him rot in prison for years on end," said Rakoff, who is expected to order restitution at a later date.
Caspersen, the son of late Wall Street financier Finn M.W. Caspersen, had worked at Park Hill Group since 2013. The advisory firm was spun off from private equity group Blackstone Group LP last year and is now part of PJT Partners.
Prosecutors said beginning in 2014, Caspersen sought to defraud over a dozen investors including his mother, a brother and friends by claiming he would use their funds to make loans to private equity firms, generating annual returns of 15 to 20 percent.
Instead, prosecutors said he used the $38.5 million he raised to make options trades, to pay earlier investors and to replace over $8 million he misappropriated from Park Hill, which Caspersen said during his July guilty plea he used for gambling.
In total, he tried to raise over $150 million, prosecutors said.
His victims included a foundation affiliated with hedge fund Moore Capital Management and one of the fund's employees, who together were cheated out of $25 million, prosecutors said.
He was arrested in March at a New York airport after returning from a trip to Florida. Just before that, he had drafted a suicide note to his wife and letter to his creditors saying he was "deeply ashamed," court papers said.
The case is U.S. v. Caspersen, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-cr-00414.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis, Bernard Orr)