Fredric Weiss was dying of cancer. The retired Philadelphia science teacher trusted insurance agent Robert Sturman to make sure Cynthia Weiss, his wife, would have a secure financial future.

"Take good care of her," he told Sturman shortly before his death in 2005, his wife recalled. "Don't worry," Sturman replied. "Everything will be fine."

In the months that followed, however, her retirement plans were turned upside down. Sturman had stolen $600,000 from her, most of it from her husband's life-insurance policy.

Cynthia Weiss, now 65 and living in Voorhees, was among more than 50 people, mainly retired public-school teachers, who lost more than $4.2 million to Sturman.

"He just tore a path like a tornado through people's lives," Weiss said Monday evening.

On Friday, Sturman, 57, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. He pleaded guilty to fraud counts in July.

"How do you lie straight-faced to a dying man and his soon-to-be widow that you've known for 20 years?" Weiss wrote in a victim-impact letter to U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick. "I still lie awake at night reliving the nightmare of having Sturman in my life experience."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen L. Grigsby wrote in a sentencing memo that Sturman scheme began as early as 1997 and lasted until February 2007.

"Sturman had stolen from people he had known for decades, people who trusted him 'like a son,' " Grigsby wrote.

Sturman was successful as an insurance agent, but he developed a gambling problem. Sturman claimed to authorities that his ex-wife and her spending habits were to blame for his thievery.

As part of his scheme, he sometimes told his clients they were investing in companies or annuities, or were buying bonds. But he was just pocketing the money.

His most lucrative scam involved getting clients to give him large sums of money to supposedly buy and then resell tickets to sporting events. While he did buy and sell some tickets, he often took the victims' checks to check cashers.

Even after learning he was being investigated, he continued with his scheme, Grigsby said. After he was confronted by the FBI about some of the allegations, he proceeded to steal almost $200,000 from an elderly couple in West Philadelphia.

He was stopped when he was arrested last year and held without bail.

Cynthia Weiss said she "was very grateful" for the prison sentence, because it was longer than what the sentencing guidelines offered.

If it was up to her, she said, she would suggest another punishment.

"He should be hung from his fingernails."

Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.