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We’ve noticed a smidgen of rural smugness about the Manhattan swindler Bernie Madoff, the New York City dude who ran a $50 billion pyramid scheme. You don’t find that kind of dishonesty in rural America. Well, what about Ronald Keith Owens of Mineral Wells, Texas? This country con man took $2.6 million from investors — and for his troubles he was sentenced to 60 years in state prison for theft. Owens also pled guilty to federal counts of wire fraud and filing a false tax return in a Ponzi scheme that the Mineral Wells Index said cheated hundreds of people across the U.S.

“Unlike Madoff, Owens perpetrated his scam far from the glamour of Wall Street – in Mineral Wells, a small town west of Fort Worth,” wrote Texas Securities Commissioner Denise Voigt Crawford. “Madoff’s alleged victims include celebrities, wealthy families, philanthropists and universities. Owens stole mainly from the Main Street crowd, including individual investors, grocers, and an array of church groups.” Owens used money from new investors to show profits to old investors, the same shell game played by Madoff.

“You learned how to counsel and talk to people out of their anguish and it seems to me you also learned how to talk them out of their money – and you did that,” said State District Judge Jerry Ray when he sentenced the 72-year-old Owens (above). “You have left in your wake a sea of hurt and heartache. When you steal from people and do it so often that you lose track of zeros, it shows a callousness and disregard, not only for the law, but the good folks you’re taking advantage of. You squandered your right to be free in what time you have left,” Ray added.

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