Architect of $930 mln Ponzi scheme gets 20-year term

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A Florida man who admitted to running a $930 million Ponzi scheme tied to a fake grocery distribution business was sentenced on Tuesday to 20 years in prison, Attorney Paul Fishman in New Jersey said.

Nevin Shapiro, a 42-year-old Miami Beach resident, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton in the federal court in Newark, New Jersey. The judge also sentenced him to pay $82.7 million in restitution, Fishman said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob Elberg told the judge that the estimated size of Shapiro’s fraud had grown to $930 million from an original $880 million, a spokeswoman in Fishman’s office said.

Shapiro had pleaded guilty last September 15 to one count each of securities fraud and money laundering.

Maria Elena Perez, a lawyer for Shapiro, did not immediately return a call after business hours for a comment.

The defendant admitted to defrauding more than 50 investors who had lost between $50 million and $100 million in his firm Capitol Investments USA Inc, in a scheme that ran from January 2005 to November 2009.

Prosecutors said the scheme helped Shapiro repay earlier investors, cover gambling debts, and fund a lavish lifestyle that included payments on a $5 million home and $1.5 million yacht, a lease for a Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG car, and floor seats to watch the Miami Heat professional basketball team.

In a related civil case filed in April 2010, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had estimated the fraud at $900 million, and said Shapiro used $769 million to repay earlier investors.

Former Capitol Chief Financial Officer Roberto Torres and his son Alejandro, a former Capitol accountant, in April each pleaded guilty to securities fraud for helping Shapiro run the Ponzi scheme.

The criminal case is U.S. v. Shapiro, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey, No. 10-cr-00071. The civil case is SEC v. Shapiro, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, No. 10-21281.