NEWS/UPDATES: Feds Say $900 Million Nevin Shapiro Ponzi ‘Perfect Example Of Greed Run Amok’; Colorado Charges Bela Geczy, Michael Kass With Racketeering In Fraud Case

The acts of Nevin Shapiro — a Florida man arrested in New Jersey yesterday on charges of orchestrating a $900 million Ponzi scheme — represent a “perfect example of greed run amok,” an FBI agent said.

Separately, a grand jury in Colorado has charged two men under the state’s organized-crime statute with operating an $18 million securities-fraud scheme that affected at least 270 investors.

Arrested in Colorado were Bela Geczy, 57, of Longmont, and Michael Brian Kass, 48, of Boulder. Authorities said they orchestrated a massive Ponzi scheme involving domestic and offshore business opportunities.

The court docket in the cases against Geczy and Kass shows two dozen felony counts, including violations of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act, conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud by fraud or deceit and securities fraud by untrue statement or omission.

Like Florida, Minnesota, Washington, New York, South Carolina, California, Michigan and other states, Colorado has been plagued by Ponzi and fraud schemes. No fewer than five major Ponzi or financial fraud probes are under way in Colorado. Records suggest the highly complex frauds involved more than $100 million.

In New York alone this week, two major financial-fraud cases were filed. The schemes involved in the neighborhood of $101.5 million, according to court filings. Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan of the Western District of Washington outlined five major Ponzi probes in various states of completion in the Greater Seattle area. These cases involve tens of millions of dollars, according to records.

At the same time, the main page of the website of U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones of the District of Minnesota features links to three major Ponzi cases in various stages of investigation. One of the cases is the Tom Petters’ Ponzi case. Petters was sentenced this month to 50 years in federal prison for presiding over a $3.65 billion fraud.

Jones’ website also includes information on a Ponzi case involving at least $190 million. Trevor Cook pleaded guilty to mail fraud and tax evasion in the fraud earlier this month, and is awaiting sentencing. The website also includes information on the investigation into the business practices of Steve Renner in an alleged autosurf Ponzi scheme case involving tens of millions of dollars.

Florida/New Jersey Cases Against Nevin Shapiro

Shapiro, 41, was a prominent Miami Beach businessman. Authorities now say he was operating a Ponzi scheme since 2005 that rivaled the $1.2 billion Scott Rothstein scheme in dollar volume. Rothstein pleaded guilty in his massive fraud case earlier this year.

Like Rothstein, Shapiro liked to chum around with sports figures and live large, according to records.

Shapiro used “stolen funds to purchase a pair of diamond-studded handcuffs, which he gave as a gift to a prominent professional athlete,” prosecutors said. He also spent more than $400,000 for floor seats to watch the Miami Heat, a team in the NBA.

At the same time, prosecutors said, he spent about $26,000 per month on mortgage payments on his $5.3 million residence in Miami Beach, while directing about $7,250 per month for payments on a $1.5 million dollar Riviera yacht and roughly $4,700 per month for the lease of a Mercedes-Benz.

Viewed on a yearly basis, the payments on the residence, yacht and car alone consumed more than $450,000 — and yet Shapiro’s purported business produced no sales.

A veteran FBI agent said the case was about naked greed.

“This case is a perfect example of greed run amok,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward. “In pursuit of wealth and a lifestyle he was otherwise unable to attain, Mr. Shapiro allegedly preyed upon unsuspecting investors looking to secure a safe place to maximize their investments.  Instead, their futures have been irrevocably damaged.”

Although purportedly in the business of buying groceries in a lower-priced market and selling them wholesale in markets in which they would fetch higher prices, Shapiro’s company largely was a mirage that conducted virtually no legitimate business after 2004 and sustained itself by paying investors with the money of other investors, prosecutors said.

“Nevin Shapiro is charged with tricking investors with false documents and false promises,” said U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman of the District of New Jersey. “He spent tens of millions of their money on gambling debts, lavish gifts and a luxury lifestyle built on a house of cards.”

Authorities gave credit for the Shapiro criminal collar and an accompanying civil action by the SEC to the combined investigative efforts of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama formed the Task Force in November 2009.

Shapiro, prosecutors said, diverted at least $38 million in investors’ funds for his own use, and investors now are out tens of millions of dollars.

A girlfriend received goods totaling $116,000 from a charge card, which Shapiro used to rack up $640,000 in personal purchases, according to court records.

The IRS is part of the investigative team in the Shapiro case.

“Scammers, con artists and swindlers will do and say anything to get you to buy into their scheme,” stated William P. Offord, Special Agent in Charge, IRS-Criminal Investigation.

Like his investigative colleagues in other Ponzi cases, Offord reuttered the age-old adage:

“Remember the old cliche,” he said.  “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.'”

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