Rabbi Takes A Sabbatical To Jail

Money Laundering, by Flickr user "Images_Of_Money", licensed via Creative Commons.Rabbi Mordchai Fish, of Brooklyn, New York, has been sentenced to 46 months in prison for laundering nearly a million dollars.  In early 2008, Fish accepted checks to charities in New York and New Jersey from admitted Ponzi schemer and FBI informant Solomon Dwek.  The charities, including Boyoner Gemilas Chesed, Beth Pinchas, and Levovous, are called “gemachs”, groups intended to give money to people in need.  Instead, the cash went straight back to Dwek, freshly laundered, with Fish keeping a nice 10% commission for himself in the process.  Too bad Dwek was wired up and handing Fish bait money provided by the FBI.  Over two years, Fish and Dwek, with the latter informing all the while, laundered more than $900,000, a crime punishable by a maximum 20 years in prison and fines up to $200,000.  Fish swam by the recommended 57-month sentence from Judge Joel Pisano, receiving a lower sentence because of his work in the Orthodox community.

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Divorce Is Final, Says Court

Gavel and scales, by Flickr user "s_falkow", licensed via Creative CommonsThe New York Court of Appeals ruled today that a Bernie Madoff victim can’t redefine the terms of his divorce on account of his losses to Madoff’s fraud.  Steven Simkin and Laura Blank, when married, invested $5.4 million in Madoff’s business together.  The terms of their 2006 divorce settlement totalling $13.5 million split all assets evenly.  However, while Mr. Simkin elected to retain his stake in Madoff’s business in the divorce, Blank took her half in cash.  Madoff turned himself in to police for perpetrating the largest Ponzi scheme in history just two years later.  Meaning that Simkin lost his millions, while Blank was none the worse.

Simkin sued Blank to essentially redo the divorce settlement, which eventually reached New York’s highest court.  His argument was that, since Madoff’s investment was fraudulent, he and Blank should split the losses evenly.  Today, the court decided against it, citing the finality of divorce and warning that allowing the resettlement would set a dangerous precedent for divorce settlements and other contracts.  While Simkin tried to argue that the Madoff account didn’t exist and so he shouldn’t be held accountable for his investment in it, the Court disagreed, saying that the account did exist, it was just illegal, and that Simkin could have taken out his money at any time, like his ex-wife did.  In other words, they called him a sore loser.

Mets Pay $162 Million in Madoff Settlement

Mets fans are used to errors on the field, but not in the bank.  Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, the owners of the New York Mets, have settled a lawsuit concerning their profits from the much-publicized Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, the biggest investment fraud ever conducted.  Irving Picard, the trustee hoping to recoup the investments lost in the Madoff case, had sued the Mets owners accusing them of “willful blindness”, or that they were aware of Madoff’s fraud, but ignored it because they were making money.  Early adopters of Ponzi schemes often make money in the time it takes to collapse.  The settlement today makes sure that those claims of willful blindness never go to court, claims which Picard thinks a jury would have found true.  Jury selection for this trial was set to occur this morning.  Luckily for the Mets, the owners settled for $162 million, nearly half of the $386 million they could have had to pay out.  This is in addition to the $83.3 million in profits the judge in this case had already ordered to be paid back.

It will be interesting to watch how the rest of the Madoff damages litigation pans out.  Despite the 74-year-old head honcho already convicted and in jail for a 150-year term, the recovery effort is still going strong, with Picard getting about $11 billion of the lost $17.3 billion returned.  It is a little late in the game now, but who knows.  Maybe all those rich people who trusted their money with a flimsy criminal will get their money back.  Also, maybe pigs will fly.  Here’s hoping!

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How Prevalent Are Ponzi Schemes?

Money puzzle, licensed via Creative Commons via taxbrackets.org

Ponzi schemes are difficult to unravel, not unlike a billion-piece puzzle.

Ponzi schemes have been in the news recently, but not for bad reasons.  Specifically, proposed and confirmed settlements of three big ponzi schemers have been reached with some of their victims.  The victims of Earl Jones, a convicted Québécois schemer who swindled an estimated $40 million from 150 people, have settled in a class action suit with his bank for about $18 million.  The late Kenneth Wayne McLeod, whose Capital Analysts Inc. group stole $34 million mostly from federal agents and policemen, has proposed settlement for an undisclosed amount with 140 investors (though not without some suspicion, as noted in that article).  And perhaps biggest of all, though not Madoff-big, is Scott Rothstein, the big-mouthed Florida lawyer whose Charlie-Sheen-esque ramblings during a deposition were something of a pop culture phenomenon last year.  He made off with $1.2 billion of investors’ money, with his bank recently settling for $170 million for its part in the scheme.

While reading this, I became curious as to how prevalent these Ponzi schemes are.  Presumably after Bernie Madoff made headlines with his $65 billion scheme, duping even high-profile celebrities and financial leaders, people would be more aware of what they were doing with their money.  However, Ponzi schemers are just as active as ever.  This list on Wikipedia shows 32 caught Ponzi schemers in the last decade alone — some with schemes going back ten years or more.  Just think about how many are perpetrating a fraud right now.

Read on to learn about common investment fraud tactics after the jump.

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