Ex-Refco chief plans appeal of prison sentence

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Phillip Bennett, the former chief executive of collapsed commodities broker Refco, has filed court papers to appeal his 16-year prison sentence handed down for fraud and conspiracy, according to court documents.

Phillip Bennett, former chairman and chief executive officer of commodities firm Refco, departs federal court where he was sentenced to 16 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges, in New York, July 3, 2008. REUTERS/Chip East

Bennett, 60, was sentenced on July 3 after pleading guilty in February to 20 criminal counts related to a $2.4 billion fraud that led to Refco’s collapse. The company was a global trading empire until it unraveled in 2005.

Bennett filed a “notice of appeal” in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, according to a copy of the document, which was made public on Friday.

It said the appeal concerned Bennett’s sentence only, not his conviction. As part of his sentence, Bennett will also forfeit all his assets.

He is appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which covers cases in New York federal district courts.

An attorney for Bennett was not immediately available for comment.

He has been ordered to be kept under house arrest in his New Jersey home until he surrenders to a federal facility on September 4. After serving his sentence, he is to be deported to his native Britain.

Refco sought bankruptcy protection in October 2005 after revealing that Bennett had hidden $430 million in bad customer debt.

Before sentencing, Bennett’s lawyers had sought leniency, citing his guilty plea and cooperation with civil lawsuits spurred by Refco’s demise. In a memo to Judge Naomi Buchwald, who oversaw the case, they had argued that that a lengthy term would likely be a life sentence for Bennett.

Prosecutors, however, argued that Bennett was a “fundamentally and thoroughly dishonest human being,” saying his greed drove his long-running scheme to lie about Refco’s financial condition. Through the fraud, they said, Bennett lived lavishly, acquiring luxuries including a $20 million airplane and $11 million worth of race cars.

Prosecutors had recommended that Bennett get a sentence on par with the stiff prison terms give to executives in other big corporate scandals, such as the 25-year term handed down to former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers in 2005.

Editing by Maureen Bavdek