Fund Manager Arrested and Charged in $17 Million Ponzi Scheme
A five-count indictment was unsealed this morning in federal court charging James M. Peister, a fund manager who resides in St. James, New York, with securities, wire, and mail fraud in connection with his operation of a $17 million Ponzi scheme. The defendant is in custody and will be arraigned this afternoon before United States District Judge Joseph F. Bianco at the United States Courthouse in Central Islip, New York. In addition, the government seized the defendant’s Hummer sport utility vehicle and seeks to forfeit the home in St. James, New York, he paid for with the victims’ investments.
The charges were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and George Venizelos, Assistant Director in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI).
According to the indictment and other court filings, between January 2000 and June 2009, Peister raised more than $17 million from at least 74 investors in connection with an investment fund that he managed. He had assured those investors that their money would be invested safely in a variety of securities, including stocks, futures, and fixed income instruments. Instead of investing the money as he had promised, Peister misappropriated the money to run a Ponzi scheme. Among other things, he used the investors’ money to pay millions of dollars in redemptions to his victim investors to keep the Ponzi scheme afloat and to purchase luxury items such as an expensive estate in St. James and a Hummer luxury vehicle. To avoid detection and continue the scheme, Peister sent phony account statements to investors that falsely showed that their funds were invested and performing well. Additionally, Peister submitted bogus financial statements to the investment fund’s independent auditor, causing the auditor to overstate the value and profits of the investment fund to the victim investors. As a result, investors believed that the funds were performing satisfactorily, and they continued to invest their money with Peister. Peister’s Ponzi scheme collapsed in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008, when he could no longer keep up with demands for redemptions from nervous investors.
“As alleged, Peister preyed upon innocent investors to construct his house of cards. But that house collapsed under the weight of his lies,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “Peister promised investors that he would invest their money safely and responsibly. Instead, he stole their money to finance his personal life style. Now, he will be held to account for his crimes. This office will aggressively investigate and prosecute those who commit financial crimes and victimize investors.” Ms. Lynch expressed her grateful appreciation to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission for their cooperation and assistance in the investigation.
FBI Assistant Director in Charge Venizelos stated, “As alleged, for years Peister swindled and conned innocent investors out of their hard-earned money to support his lavish lifestyle. He made false representations about the success of the investment fund to keep the financial scheme afloat and unsuspecting investors at bay. His actions serve as an example of the unconscionable greed that fuels these all too common fraud cases. The FBI is committed to investigating those who prey upon trusting individuals for their own personal gain.”
The charges contained in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment on each of the securities fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud counts. Additionally, if convicted, Peister may be fined up to $5,000,000 for the securities fraud count and $250,000 for each of the wire and mail fraud counts.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, Jonathan P. Lax and Brian D. Morris.
This prosecution was the result of efforts by President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF), which was created in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated, and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, and state and local partners, it is the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigator, and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state, and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets; and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions, and other organizations. Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed more than 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants. For more information on the task force, visit stopfraud.gov.
James M. Peister
St. James, New York