A federal judge in Anchorage sentenced local surgeon Michael Brandner, 67, to serve four years in prison for hiding millions of dollars and gold in secret bank accounts while his divorce played out in state court.
On Friday, Brandner continued to maintain his innocence and told U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason that imposing jail time hurts his family more than him, and his wife testified that she was not the victim the government portrayed during the two-hour sentencing.
Prosecutors say Brandner's scheme to defraud his wife, Sheila Brandner, lasted for a prolonged period. He lied to a divorce court judge, law enforcement officials and his friends and family in efforts to hide the assets, they said.
"For four years (Brandner) lied to the court. It was conduct that was repeated over and over," said Department of Justice Tax Division attorney Ignacio Perez De La Cruz, who characterized Brandner as a serial liar as the defendant listened through a court-provided hearing aid.
Brandner appeared in court wearing plain clothes. The tall, heavy-set man hugged and greeted a handful of supporters who addressed him as "doctor" before the hearing started.
A jury found Brandner guilty of multiple counts of tax evasion and wire fraud in November. Additionally, the state charged the doctor with four counts of perjury in a case that remains open.
Shortly after the divorce was filed in late 2007, Brandner moved millions of dollars to Central America by car to hide assets from his wife of 28 years.
He deposited $350,000 in cash and 1,000 ounces of gold at a Costa Rican bank, then traveled to Panama, where he opened an account under a sham corporation, Dakota Investments of CA Inc. He deposited $4.6 million into the Dakota account in 2008.
Brandner claimed during the divorce that he could not convert his Dakota investments into cash until 2013, making them unavailable during the divorce settlement.
In 2011, he repatriated $4.6 million once the divorce was final, but the money was seized by federal agents and eventually Brandner was charged in a civil asset forfeiture case. Brandner failed to make a claim for his life savings; his wife did not follow up on initial actions to obtain them herself, resulting in a default judgment in favor of the government.
Brandner is appealing that decision, and the money remains seized, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder.
After arguing over several factors affecting the sentencing range, Judge Gleason determined Brandner could get up to nine years in prison. Federal prosecutors argued for a sentence of about seven years, but Gleason said she had factored in Brandner's age and his health ailments.
Sheila Brandner, the only person to speak on behalf of Brandner, said the real victim in the case was her husband. She said they had an "old school" Catholic marriage, and alluded to acting against the teachings of their religion toward its end. Sheila said the court would never understand what motivated Brandner to move the money.
"All he was trying to do was protect our family," she said. "I hope you will be merciful; his family really needs him."
Cruz disagreed. Brandner abandoned his pre-teen daughter and distraught wife for six months to carry out the scheme, he said.
Defense attorney D. Randall Ensminger urged the court to avoid imposing restitution in the case since Shelia Brandner argued she hadn't been victimized.
Gleason will consider the prosecution's request for restitution, however. Brandner also was ordered to pay nearly $26,000 for legal fees and another $500,000 in additional taxes for the 2008 through 2010 tax years.
Brandner walked out of the courtroom following his sentencing. He will turn himself in to the court shortly after officials decide where he'll be imprisoned, a decision that can take up to two months.