updated 9/21/2005 7:01:26 PM ET 2005-09-21T23:01:26

A former investment manager was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years in federal prison for stealing tens of millions of dollars from orphans and accident victims to spend on business ventures and luxury items, including a 67-foot yacht.

James R. Gibson, 60, also was ordered to pay more than $83 million in restitution by U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert, who handed down the maximum allowable prison time for a one-time supermarket mogul he called a “parasite” who preyed on 183 victims.

“You are, without a doubt, the most arrogant, self-centered, manipulative person I’ve ever laid eyes on,” Gilbert told Gibson. “You obviously have no conscience.”

Gibson was convicted in May of seven counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering tied to his company SBU Inc., which operated in Illinois, Missouri and Florida, and Flag Finance Corp., a shell corporation with St. Louis operations.

Many of Gibson’s clients were people who got settlements or legal judgments in personal injury or medical malpractice cases and believed the money would be safely invested to provide them with monthly income and long-term financial stability.

Gibson argued Wednesday as he had during his trial that his company’s attorneys and accountants had steered him wrong, allegedly telling him he could spend the victims’ money as he did.

“I didn’t set out to hurt anybody,” he said. “My advice was bad.”

But Gilbert dismissed that, labeling Gibson “nothing more than a flimflam man of the first degree who used SBU as your own personal piggy bank.”

“Like a gambler, you rolled the dice and took the chance that left 180 victims without funds to pay medical bills” or cover other essentials, the judge said. “The psychological suffering inflicted upon these people by you will never heal.”

Gibson, who acted as his own attorney at trial and often interrupted a lawyer he called upon Wednesday to help him, often referred to himself as “Mr. Gibson” and “Jim Gibson.” When he pressed Gilbert to recommend that he not be sent to a “supermax” prison because it could compromise his ability to work on his appeals, the judge said he had no say in that.

Prosecutors said Gibson used much of the money to buy 23 stores in a failed bid to resurrect the National Supermarkets chain, which went bankrupt under his watch. He also bought luxury cars, a yacht dubbed the Emerald Isle, and real estate.

Prosecutors said that when the grocery stores failed in 1999, Gibson fled the country with his wife, Marjorie, leaving behind clients who lost some or all of their money.

Gibson, arrested in 2001, pleaded guilty in 2002 to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud. But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago overturned his conviction because Judge G. Patrick Murphy improperly sentenced him to a 22-year sentence when the maximum term for the charge was five years.

Marjorie Gibson pleaded guilty in 2002 to money laundering and was sentenced to three years in prison. She has been released.

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