Merl William Hickman Sr., the Shawnee man convicted in 2004 of bilking more than $8 million from 160 investors, has completed his eight-year federal prison term and will soon begin his 160-year state prison sentence.
Victims of Hickman’s ponzi scheme were mailed a letter notifying them of his upcoming release from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, with many receiving that notice Tuesday. But, Hickman won’t see a minute of freedom.
Pottawatomie County District Attorney Richard Smothermon said Hickman, who has been serving time on federal charges, still owes the state 160 years for his Pottawatomie County conviction.
Hickman, originally charged with 444 felony counts of obtaining money by false pretenses in a confidence game, pleaded guilty to 16 of those counts.
Smothermon’s office fielded several phone calls Tuesday from those worried that Hickman’s release from a federal prison near Houston was a permanent release, but Smothermon said Hickman won’t have “one second of free air.”
His release will be a transfer from federal to state custody as Pottawatomie County sheriff’s deputies pick him up and bring him to the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center in Shawnee. He’ll remain jailed there under transfer into the Department of Corrections.
“He’s served his federal time and now he has to serve time here,” Smothermon said, adding the “160 years is symbolic” for victims.
“I wanted him to remember his victims every minute,” Smothermon said.
The Hickman case first began to unfold Dec. 17, 2003, when state officials shut down The Hickman Agency in Shawnee and seized assets. The ponzi scheme scam was exposed, leaving many to lose their life savings or retirement funds.
Smothermon said his goal — and his promise — to the scammed investors was Hickman would spend the rest of his life behind bars. Hickman, who was 55 at sentencing, is now 62.
Over the years, many of the investors have said Hickman stole their trust and sense of security. Years later, many are still trying to recover.
James and Kim Adams were among those scammed. After James Adams retired from OG&E, he joined a few fellow retirees in investing his lump sum retirement funds with Hickman, and they lost nearly $396,000, Kim Adams said.
Now as they approach retirement age, they are starting over from scratch, Kim Adams said, although she said her husband was able to get rehired with OG&E in 2010.
“We’ve had to take it day by day,” she said, still finding the words difficult to convey losing their life’s retirement.
The couple received their letter about Hickman’s release Tuesday, but Adams said she assumed it was for Hickman Jr., so she wasn’t aware the elder Hickman was already set for release.
Hickman’s son, Merl William “Billy” Hickman Jr., now 41, received a five-year term with the federal Bureau of Prisons for his role in the case. He was released after completing his time in 2009.
Page 2 of 2 - But even before receiving the mail, Kim Adams said Hickman was already on her mind, especially lately, as their daughter, Mandy, just graduated high school.
“He took our money,” she said, which affected their daughter’s choice of colleges. “We lost everything and we’ve not been able to recoup,” she said.
She said the past few years have been more stressful. Adams, like many of the other investors, has seen and heard public service announcements from the Oklahoma Securities Commission to warn of these types of ponzi schemes; the Hickman case is still believed to be the largest in the state.
Adams said she’s more knowledgeable know.
“It wasn’t like we were rich — it was our retirement,” she said. “But our security is gone — and knowing we have no money in savings...it’s taken everything to live.”
As part of the ponzi scheme, investors were promised returns up to 20 percent, but no money was ever invested. Instead, funds from later investors were used to pay off earlier investors. Prosecutors allege the rest was spent to fund a lavish lifestyle of boats, cars, trips and jewelry. A court-appointed receiver was appointed to recoup investor money by selling off boats, cars, jewelry, property and other items confiscated from Hickman. Most of the investors received little if any money back, and any refunds were estimated to be pennies on the dollar.
Did you know?
The Hickman Agency case first began to unfold Dec. 17, 2003, when state officials shut down The Hickman Agency in Shawnee and seized assets. Court records indicated about 160 investors lost more than $8 million in the investment scheme since 1999.