Plea deal could lead to 6-year sentence for $2.3 million scheme

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 9, 2012

By Nathan Hardin
CHARLOTTE — Accused Ponzi scheme operator John Knox Bridges is expected to plead guilty today in federal court after allegedly bilking $2.3 million from friends, neighbors and several high-profile organizations.
The Salisbury native will plead guilty to securities fraud and money laundering, according to an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Although the offenses carry a 30-year maximum combined sentence, Bridges is expected to face up to six years in prison, the agreement said.
Bridges did not respond to a telephone message Wednesday.
Bridges has also agreed to pay “full restitution,” the agreement says.
But Sherry Austin, who accused Bridges of taking $400,000 from her and a friend in 2009, called that “a joke.”
“He has no money. He has never really had money,” Austin said. “He’s spent his entire life taking it and passing it around to support his secret lavish lifestyle. That’s all he knows to do.”
Bridges is also accused of stealing $600,000 from the N.C. Transportation Museum Foundation while serving on the board.
Roy Johnson, president of the Transportation Museum Foundation, did not return a telephone call Wednesday.
Bridges was also accused of taking $800,000 from North Carolina fresco artist Ben Long and thousands from the Lindbergh Foundation, based in Minnesota, as he served as president.
As a part of the scheme, Bridges “solicited several individuals to invest in a fictitious company called ‘Logan Investments,’ ” a federal indictment stated.
Authorities said Bridges used the money for personal living expenses and international travel.
Bridges got officers involved in 2009 when he told federal investigators that his computer had been hacked and $600,000 was stolen, court documents show.
Two weeks before he was indicted in federal court in early September, Salisbury Police were called to a reported suicide attempt at Bridges’ 207 S. Ellis Street home, where he had a brief standoff with officers.
During the incident, an officer stunned Bridges with a Taser, but Bridges shot himself with a shotgun before police could subdue him.
He was treated and released at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.
Austin said after accusations began to surface about Bridges, he continued lying to friends and neighbors.
“Even when he was a suspect in all this, he went straight up to Linville, North Carolina, and started it all over again,” Austin said.
Austin, an Asheville resident, claims Bridges joined a church in Linville and began working with organizations and charity groups affiliated with the church.
Bridges’ father was a Mecklenburg County pastor during his childhood and he came from a prestigious background, Austin said.
His family, she said, is one of the things that made him believable.
“He can groom people,” she said. “He spent years grooming people with good deeds and working his way into their lives and stealing them blind all these years.”
Austin said Bridges had relationships with several women through the years as a way to get them to loan him money. She claims he was courting several women in Linville before his arrest. “He was already involved with women that he could take advantage of up there,” she said. “The day he gets out, he will start it again.”
Bridges is scheduled for a plea hearing in federal court this morning in Charlotte.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.
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