Charles Hays Jr., a Rosemount day trader once lionized as a market wizard who had beat Wall Street traders at their own game, listened passively Tuesday as a number of his former clients asked a federal judge to sentence him to a lengthy prison term.

One after another, nine of his former clients edged past Hays as they approached the podium and asked U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank in St. Paul to throw the book at the 56-year-old Hays, who bilked 115 people out of more than $22 million.

Frank then sentenced Hays to 9¾ years in prison -- just shy of the top of the federal sentencing guidelines -- followed by three years of supervised release. Frank also ordered Hays to pay restitution of $21.8 million, acknowledging that only a small fraction would ever be repaid.

His victims called Hays a gifted and despicable con man and a thief. They described how he robbed them of their life's savings, their retirement cushions, their children's and grandchildren's college funds and their faith in their fellow man. They talked of panic attacks, insomnia, and the broken relationships and dreams that flowed from their misplaced trust in Hays.

"Chuck Hays is a liar of the highest caliber," said Jim Mickelson of New Richmond, Wis., who has had to sell two farms after losing $2 million he'd invested with Hays. "What is the price that he should pay for stealing $2 million, two farms and 20 years of my life?"

Jack Uselman said he and his wife ran a business and "scrimped and saved" for more than 30 years to build a retirement fund that evaporated in Hays' scheme. "The money's gone, but the real theft is time," Uselman said.

And Manoj Moorjani of Eden Prairie urged the judge not to go easy on Hays just because his haul pales by comparison to the $65 billion Ponzi scheme orchestrated by convicted Wall Street trader Bernard Madoff or the $3.65 billion fraud scheme run by Minnesota businessman Tom Petters.

"Chuck Hays' intent was exactly the same as theirs," Moorjani said.

Hays had been head of Crossfire Trading, a business he ran out of his house, and was profiled as an astute trader in a 2007 book called "Millionaire Traders: How Everyday People are Beating Wall Street at its Own Game." Investors say Hays told them he traded in stock index futures and other futures contracts and could earn them about 3 percent a month.

The judge said he'd read the more than 60 letters investors had written him, as well as the 26 letters of support he received from Hays' family members and friends. Frank said he generally thinks that the penalties recommended by the federal sentencing guidelines commission in white collar crime cases are too light to provide a general deterrence to others.

"You can take more dignity and respect with a pen than you can with a gun," Frank said.

On the other hand, Frank said he must also consider the individual before him. He said the a photo album someone sent him showing Hays with his children -- together with the letters of support -- indicate that Hays has been a good father, even though what he did undoubtedly betrayed everything he taught his children about right and wrong.

"Good people commit crimes and lie and cheat and steal," Frank said.

Hays declined when offered a chance to make a statement.

Hays admitted he spent investor funds for his personal use. The government seized a $3 million, 53-foot yacht Hays bought and two of Hays' bank accounts with about $1 million.

The case was prosecuted by Robertson Park and Laura Perkins of the U.S. Commodities Futures and Trading Commission (CFTC) and Ann Anaya and Jim Alexander, assistant U.S. attorneys in Minnesota. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigated the case with assistance from the CFTC.

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493