People v. Dennis and Brenda Willingham
(Grand Theft, Securities Fraud, Sale of Unqualified Securities)
Couple convicted of multiple felonies arising out of strawberry brokering scam
Brenda and Dennis Willingham operated both Sunshine Fresh Produce, a strawberry brokering business, and Willingham Farms, a strawberry farming business, in the city of Oxnard. The two defendants obtained funds to operate their businesses from investors, and issued securities in the form of unsecured promissory notes. The defendants defaulted on the promissory notes and the businesses went bankrupt. A criminal investigation conducted by the District Attorney’s Office revealed that the Willinghams made material misrepresentations and omissions in the sale of the securities or promissory notes to the investors. A credible estimate is these two defendants created over $35 million in financial losses for their investors and business creditors. Brenda Willingham was convicted of 22 felony counts of securities fraud, one count of felony grand theft, and one felony count of willfully disobeying a Department of Corporations Desist and Refrain Order. She was sentenced to 15 years in state prison. Dennis Willingham was convicted of 20 felony counts of securities fraud and the sale of unqualified securities, and was sentenced to 12 years in state prison. Each defendant has been ordered to pay millions of dollars in restitution to the 37 victims named in the case.