Florida Man Arrested for Investment Scheme That Targeted Phoenix Residents
80-Year-Old Defendant Used Alias and Fraudulent Bank Statements to Carry Out Scheme
|U.S. Attorney’s Office December 03, 2010|
PHOENIX—Louis Michael Pihakis, 80, of Pensacola, Florida, was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The federal indictment details the scheme where Pihakis and other co-conspirators engaged in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud by devising a scheme to receive an advance “proof of funds” fee from victim investors in exchange for the delivery of millions of dollars in promised funding from an undisclosed billion-dollar Greek shipping trust.
Pihakis would require that the investor provide a refundable advance fee to Pihakis that would allegedly be held in escrow until funding was provided by the Greek trust. Instead, Pihakis and others used approximately $3.4 million of investor money for luxury vehicles, homes, and personal expenses. Indeed, there was no Greek trust.
“No matter how smart you think you are, you should always carefully check on your investments and even more carefully vet your investment opportunities,” says Dennis K. Burke, United States Attorney. “This case reminds investors: always be wary of a sure thing. We hope this case will serve as an educational tool to the public to prevent future investment fraud.”
“The FBI is committed to investigating those who defraud legitimate investors for their own personal gain. This indictment is a message that those who utilize these types of investment schemes to maliciously defraud, will be held accountable for their actions,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Nathan Gray, Phoenix Division. The business investors were based throughout the country including: Phoenix, Ariz.; Fargo, N.D.; Omaha, Neb.; Wildwood, N.J.; and elsewhere. Pihakis, using the alias Michael Lewis, showed investors fraudulent bank statements that claimed that the Greek trust had hundreds of millions of dollars available for project funding. Pihakis has previously served prison sentences for similar schemes.
Also charged in the indictment was co-conspirator, Willie Gene Woodard, 54, who currently resides in the Philippines.
A conviction for conspiracy to commit wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years, a $250,000 fine, or both. In determining an actual sentence, the sentencing judge will consult the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide appropriate sentencing ranges. The judge, however, is not bound by those guidelines in determining a sentence.
An indictment is simply the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt. An individual is presumed innocent until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The investigation in this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The prosecution is being handled by Kevin M. Rapp, Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of Arizona, Phoenix.
CASE NUMBER: CR:10-544-M
RELEASE NUMBER: 2010-261(Pihakis)