Former Stongington Resident Sentenced to More Than Seven Years in Prison in Connection with Investment Fraud Schemes
|U.S. Attorney’s Office January 23, 2014|
Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, today announced that Robert Ponte, 59, of Denville, New Jersey, formerly of Stonington, was sentenced late yesterday by U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny in Hartford to 90 months of imprisonment, followed by five years of supervised release, for his role in two investment schemes that caused a loss of more than $25 million to individuals and lending institutions.
According to court documents and statements made in court, between approximately June 2005 and April 2008, Ponte and Robert Rivernider of Wellington, Florida, conspired to defraud several victim investors by misrepresenting that the investors’ money would be invested in legitimate, high-return investments. As part of the conspiracy, Ponte and Rivernider used the Internet and other means to market a debt payment program typically called “No More Bills” through The Hudson Group, an entity that Ponte established. With the No More Bills program, Ponte and Rivernider sought victim investors to invest money with them, funds that the victim investors typically would raise through home equity lines of credit or would borrow from 401K plans.
Ponte and Rivernider misrepresented that investors would receive a substantial investment return, typically a monthly repayment on the invested money of approximately seven to 10 percent of their initial investment; that the returns would continue for a period substantially longer than needed to recoup the initial investment and result in a return substantially greater than the initial investment; that the victim investors’ existing debts and home equity lines of credit, if taken out to fund the investment, would be repaid in full from investment returns; and that the victim investors’ money was being invested offshore in legitimate high-return investments, including investments in foreign currency exchanges, hedge funds, or other high-yield ventures. Instead of investing the funds as promised, Ponte and Rivernider used the funds to pay their and their extended families’ living expenses, as well as the preexisting debts of other investors.
Through this first scheme, investors lost approximately $2.2 million.
In a second scheme, between approximately November 2006 and December 2007, Ponte, Rivernider, and Loretta Seneca of Boynton Beach, Florida, engaged in a real estate investment conspiracy that defrauded both lenders and individuals they recruited. Seneca is Rivernider’s sister. As part of the scheme, Ponte, Rivernider, and others recruited victim borrowers to take out financing to purchase various investment properties, primarily in Tennessee and Florida, with financing from victim lenders. Ponte and Rivernider typically represented to borrowers that these properties would be passive investments and that Ponte and Rivernider would be responsible for the details of the purchase, rental, maintenance, and payment of the mortgages on the properties. The co-conspirators made false representations to the victim borrowers that Ponte and Rivernider would arrange for the purchase of the properties by the borrowers at markedly discounted values. In fact, Ponte and Rivernider frequently marked up the purchase price of the properties to the victim borrowers, often by as much as 25 percent, without disclosing the increase in the purchase price. Ponte, Rivernider, and others also falsely represented that the investment properties would return to the victim borrowers sufficient money to cover the carrying costs, as well as reduce the borrowers’ other debt burden.
Ponte, Rivernider, Seneca, and others victimized lenders by making multiple false representations in loan applications and other documents provided to the victim lenders. Seneca, a trained mortgage broker, was actively involved in the real estate transactions, including organizing and gathering many of the materials needed by the victim lenders, gathering certain information from the victim borrowers, providing certain comparables based on properties brokered by Rivernider to be used for purportedly independent appraisals, and a range of other background tasks necessary for the lenders to make the loans.
This scheme involved at least 100 properties, and the investigation has revealed that the victim lending institutions suffered more than $23 million in losses.
Judge Chatigny will issue an order within 90 days requiring Ponte to pay full restitution.
On February 25, 2013, Rivernider pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy and 16 counts of wire fraud, and Seneca pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of wire fraud. On March 1, 2013, Ponte pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy, 14 counts of wire fraud, and two counts of tax evasion. All three guilty pleas occurred during the middle of a trial.
On December 18, 2013, Rivernider was sentenced to 144 months of imprisonment and five years of supervised release. Seneca awaits sentencing.
This matter has been investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John H. Durham and Christopher W. Schmeisser.