BANGOR (AP) – A real estate developer will spend 2 years in prison for bilking more than 170 people out of nearly $5 million in what prosecutors say was Maine’s largest real estate fraud case in recent memory.

William A. Gourley, 64, of Dexter was sentenced in Penobscot County Superior Court on Tuesday to five years in prison with 2 years suspended. He was also sentenced to four years probation following his release and ordered to pay at least $50 a week in restitution.

In a plea agreement, Gourley pleaded no contest in February to one count of theft by deception; in return, prosecutors dropped charges of theft, securities fraud and the sale of unregistered securities against Gourley and his wife and business partner, Barbara Gourley.

Shirley Turner, 57, of Hartland, said she bought what she thought was 57 acres of land from the Gourleys several years ago. She later learned that she owned only 44 acres and that there are at least three liens on the property where she lives in a trailer.

After the sentencing, she said justice had been served but that she was still at a loss.

“I don’t have my land. I could be out on the street,” she said. “It’s like they got it all – the money, the land, everything – and I got the shaft.”

The Gourleys solicited investments for their real estate development business, Bill & Bob Gourley Inc., by promising high rates of return on people’s investments, Assistant Attorney General Lara Nomani told Justice Roland Cole.

They then paid interest on the investments by recruiting more investors, Nomani said.

When the Gourleys sold parcels in a Newport subdivision, investors were given liens on properties in exchange for money they invested, with several investors contributing more than $100,000, she said.

Gourley’s attorney, Alan Stone, asked Cole to sentence his client to probation. Gourley, he said, didn’t mean any harm and was doing fine until the state stepped in and told him and his wife to stop doing business.

Gourley wept as he apologized to the court and his victims. He said he didn’t know he was breaking any laws. “I never attempted to or desired to steal from anyone,” he said.

After the sentencing, Douglas Thompson of Newport said the Legislature should change the law so people can’t buy land without doing a title search to make sure ownership is clear.

Thompson, 51, bought land from the Gourley in 2002. He has since resolved claims on his land.

“If it were up to me, I’d give him a beating,” Thompson said.

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