By T. D. Thornton
Jason Dodd Bullard, who was accused of perpetrating an eight-year “Ponzi” scheme that bilked friends and investors out of $3.1 million that he spent, in part, on building a 24-horse Thoroughbred stable based at Canterbury Park, got sentenced to 4 1/4 years in federal prison Oct. 12. The order out of United States District Court of Minnesota also includes a mandate that Bullard repay what he stole from his victims.
Bullard's stable, Empire Racing, LLC, was the co-winningest owner in terms of victories at Canterbury in 2019. The outfit finished third in wins there in 2021 even though the Minnesota State Racing Commission suspended his license that September when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Bullard with felony wire fraud. A judge subsequently ordered the Empire horses to be placed under receivership.
Bullard, 59, admitted in a pre-sentencing report that he once lived “high on the hog” on the money of as many as 200 victims.
But, Bullard wrote, since pleading guilty and entering into a consent judgment that has already paid back $1 million, he now “lives in a small apartment in Louisville, hundreds of miles away from his wife and kids, trying to make a small transportation business work.” He added that he wants to pay back to victims the full court-ordered $3.1 million amount, and “do what he can to right his wrongs.”
Federal prosecutors depicted Bullard differently in their own pre-sentencing report filed with the court:
“For several years before 2014, Jason Bullard engaged in what he described as foreign currency investing. There is a lack of clear evidence what he was actually doing, but there is no doubt that the returns he reported to investors were illusory by the time 2014 arrived,” the feds stated.
“By all accounts, Bullard's outward lifestyle reflected success; the investors sure thought so,” the prosecution's report continued. “But in 2014, Bullard made a fateful choice: instead of coming clean and telling his investors that his program did not work, he took the easy and greedy way out. He continued to tell investors a lie–that his foreign currency program, which no longer existed, was successful. And he continued to accept investments based on this lie.
“Bullard's scheme did not end because he got a conscience or ran out of investors,” the feds stated. “It was an investigation by the SEC that brought his reckless and unlicensed scheme to a close.
“Bullard spent their money on virtually everything but what he said he would,” the feds stated. “He and his family spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to support a comfortable lifestyle, financed a horse racing stable among other things, and in 2015 bought a large, beautiful house across from a lake in Shakopee,” the city where Canterbury is located.
Ponzi-styled fraud is named after the 1920's con artist Charles Ponzi, although the concept itself is centuries old. It involves a swindler luring investors with claims of being able to deliver outrageously fantastic returns on opaque or difficult-to- understand business deals, with the fraudster initially paying back investors only by recruiting new speculators and their money into the scheme in a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” fashion.
Similar to a “pyramid scheme,” once the pool of available suckers dries up, the operation crumbles and the deceit becomes evident to investors left with nothing. Yet Ponzi bilking often goes unreported to law enforcement, primarily because investors can be embarrassed about admitting they were suckered into a swindle.
Bullard's ownership stats on Equibase date to 2014, but Empire Racing didn't come into being until 2016, when the feds stated that the Ponzi scheme had already been operational for two years.
Empire had a 147-132-106 record and amassed $2,446,965 in earnings from 734 starts. The stable was ranked 56th in North America for victories in 2021, 30th in 2020, and 24th in 2019.
Beyond being a seasonal mainstay at Canterbury, Empire Racing also competed at tracks in the southwest, the mid-Atlantic, and in Florida.
The Facebook page for Empire Racing remains active, but it hasn't been updated since its last horses raced at Canterbury in 2021.
“Our goal at Empire Racing is to give everyone who wants to invest with us, a unique and memorable experience,” one Facebook recruitment pitch stated.
Bullard must report to prison Dec. 12.