Rancho Santa Fe couple sentenced to prison for fraud, tax evasion

A Rancho Santa Fe man accused of hiding millions in bankruptcy assets and evading taxes, and his wife who was accused of bank fraud, both were sentenced last week to federal prison terms.

Disbarred attorney and accountant J. Douglass Jennings Jr., 73, was sentenced Thursday to 34 months in federal prison. His wife, Peggy L. Jennings, 72, was sentenced to four months.

Douglass Jennings, who sometimes went by “Uncle Doug,” pleaded guilty to hiding $1.5 million in assets during his 2010 bankruptcy, including $1 million in stock, a $150,000 luxury yacht, $165,139 in silver and $138,694 in salary and other benefits.

He also pleaded guilty to evading almost $6 million in tax payments.

Peggy Jennings pleaded guilty in August to bank fraud. She signed her mother’s signature on loan documents and transferred funds into her account to artificially inflate her income, prosecutors said.

A U.S. District judge ordered her to pay $145,481 in restitution and a $50,000 fine.

The couple filed for bankruptcy in January 2010 after a real estate investment company they owned defaulted on loans made by one of Douglass Jennings’ clients.

Jennings had convinced his client, an elderly man who had inherited $3 million, to invest in certain properties but did not inform the client that he and his wife would be acquiring those properties. This and other misconduct, led to his disbarment in 2016, according to the State Bar.

Prosecutors said Jennings once touted in a commercial that he managed “one of the nation’s leading estate and tax planning law firms.” He also appeared on talk shows and wrote two books, including one he claimed was “highly regarded and one of the best and most complete estate planning treatises to date.”

In an advertisement, he once described his approach to financial planning as “faith-based.”

“This case is an example of fraud and deceit at the highest level,” IRS Special Agent in Charge R. Damon Rowe said in a statement.

U.S. Attorney Adam L. Braverman said in a statement the bankruptcy system is designed to give honest people in financial distress a fresh start.

“Manipulation of that system through fraudulent acts can cause significant harm and suffering to innocent victims, and will be vigorously pursued,” he said.

--Andrew Dyer is a writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune

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