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Plea Hearing Set For Defendant In $880M Fraud Case

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) – A Florida man accused of running a $880 million Ponzi scheme that authorities say paid for lavish spending sprees and sports philanthropy may have reached a deal with federal prosecutors.

Nevin Shapiro is due in court Sept. 15 for a plea agreement hearing on money laundering and securities fraud charges. Shapiro’s attorney did not return a message Monday, and the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.

Prosecutors say the 41-year-old Miami Beach resident used a Florida-based company called Capitol Investments USA Inc. to raise nearly $900 million from investors who thought they were buying into a wholesale grocery distribution business.

Instead, prosecutors say, Shapiro left at least 60 investors in Florida, Indiana and New Jersey with about $80 million in losses after the scheme collapsed.

Shapiro allegedly used proceeds from duped investors to fund a lifestyle so lavish he once bought a professional athlete a pair of diamond-studded handcuffs. The athlete has not been identified.

Court documents show he was known for philanthropic donations to athletic groups and charities, and even had a student-athlete lounge named after him at the University of Miami after a $150,000 donation.

Charges filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission claim Shapiro promised risk-free annual returns as high as 26 percent by persuading investors to buy into his “grocery diversion” enterprise — a practice of buying low-cost groceries in one region of the country and reselling them in more expensive markets.

Prosecutors say Shapiro kept the scheme going by providing investors with fabricated invoices, fake purchase orders and bogus financial statements whenever one inquired about his returns, and by making principal payments to current investors with money from new investors.

Terms of the plea agreement have not been disclosed.

(Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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