Authorities said Lowrance created a Ponzi-like investment scheme that was begun in San Diego, then moved to Panama City, Panama.
The operation, called the Mentor Investing Group, was sold to investors as a business that, among other investments, bought and sold foreign currencies called Forex trades.
But from August 2004 through June 2009, the company misrepresented returns, providing investors with fraudulent business statements, the Department of Justice said Thursday.
Among the statements that turned out to be false, Lowrance and his associates told investors they would make 4 percent to 7 percent per month on their investments.
In 2009, Lowrance fled to Peru, but he was arrested there and extradited to Chicago.
Prosecutors said Lowrance "caused enormous pain and suffering to many of the victims. (He) took live savings, retirement funds, college tuition and other money that victims had earned, inherited or received through the sale of a business or an insurance settlement."
He was also ordered to repay the $17.6 million.
Prosecution of the case was handled by the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which includes a variety of federal, state and local agencies.