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from www.sun-sentinel.com – A Boca Raton woman who once ran Southern California’s most exclusive escort service was sentenced Friday to one year of house arrest for her role in a Fort Lauderdale scam that bilked investors out of more than $200,000.
Michelle Braun cut a deal with state prosecutors in January to avoid prison time in exchange for paying a sizable chunk of money in restitution and pleading no contest to a felony charge. She had served as vice president of a company, Sterling Capital Trust, that sold nonexistent stock to investors, according to court records.
Braun, 35, gained worldwide notoriety several years ago as the woman presiding over Nici’s Girls — a high-class escort service that supplied porn actresses, models and centerfold beauties to movie stars, athletes and businessmen. Publications profiled her, with Details magazine calling her escorts “the most beautiful (and expensive) pros in the business.”
Braun reportedly made more than $8.5 million from her escort service until federal prosecutors in California charged her in 2009 with money laundering and transporting someone for prostitution purposes. She pleaded guilty to those charges and was sentenced to six months of house arrest followed by three years’ probation.
By the time she was sentenced in the federal case, a Florida Office of Financial Regulation investigation into Sterling Capital was under way, court records show. The company, run out of an office building on Southeast 20th Street, raised about $402,500 between March and June 2009.
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Prosecutors said they were able to identify 20 victims who sent in $209,500 to purchase stock in a company involved in alternative fuel production. That company, though, had never issued stock for sale, much less reached a deal with Sterling Capital to sell its shares, court records show.
As Sterling Capital’s vice president, Braun used investors’ money for personal expenses, according to court records. State authorities arrested her and eight others involved with Sterling Capital in June 2011.
She pleaded no contest in January to unlawfully operating a boiler room operation, a first-degree felony under Florida law punishable by up to 30 years in prison. A boiler room typically is a fraud operation in which telemarketers use high-pressure sales tactics to lure the gullible and the greedy into purported investment opportunities.
As part of her plea deal, Braun agreed to house arrest followed by four years’ probation. She already has handed over $100,000 in restitution for the victims and will be on the hook for more if her co-defendants don’t cover the rest.
Her attorney, Christopher Grillo, said Braun had been convinced by others that Sterling Capital was a legitimate company.
“She doesn’t know anything about stocks and bonds,” he said.
The tall, blond Braun said nothing during her brief sentencing hearing before Broward Circuit Judge Matthew Destry.