NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The victims of tax preparer Robert Van Zandt said they trusted him with their live savings for decades, but he stole millions of dollars and left them broke.
As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, Van Zandt was sentenced to up to 11 years in prison Monday, after being convicted in a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme.
He pleaded guilty in November to stealing $4.8 million by taking investments from clients to pay profits to others, and to steal for himself.
“We’re going to call him the workingman’s Bernie Madoff,” said one victim, named John.
Promising a high rate of return on investments, Van Zandt, 70, of the Bronx, admitted that he robbed 29 clients blind. The victims asked that their faces not be shown as they talked to CBS2.
“He started doing my taxes over 30 years ago, and it was more like friends,” said a victim named Don. “The trust grew, the trust grew.”
“I knew Bob for over 20 years,” added victim John. “And we had our taxes done by him, and small minor investments.”
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Van Zandt betrayed people’s trust, stealing their life savings.
“No amount of prison time can undo the harm he caused,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
Schneiderman said exposing this defendant’s fraudulent scheme will prevent others from becoming his victims.
Victim Don said he lost “over a half a million dollars.”
“Now I have to work two jobs, and there’s no savings at all,” added victim John. “So it’s basically, he wiped me out, and now I’m just paying my bills off so I can live day-to-day.”
The swindler reportedly lived a life of luxury, and victims wanted their money back as he was sentenced.
“Since Mr. Van Zandt’s statement in court said that he was going to go out of his way to try and repay everybody, I’m going to hold him to that,” victim John said.
Van Zandt’s attorney, Michael Bachner, said there are more individuals at the agency who were involved.
He said the others “are responsible, in our opinions, for the theft of substantial amounts of money, and it’s our intention to make that information available to the Attorney General’s office so they can further pursue restitution,” Bachner said.
The Van Zandt Agency has closed now, and has been replaced with another tax preparer. The Attonrey General said anyone else involved in the Van Zandt Ponzi scheme or any other will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Van Zandt will be held at Rikers Island for about three weeks before he is assigned to a state prison.
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