The multi-million dollar plot thickens.
In December 2011, some 30 Bronxites who believe they were defrauded of their pensions, inheritances and life savings by Robert Henry Van Zandt of the Van Zandt Agency started to try to get some of their money back.
But, the number of complainants continues to grow every week, according to Jenice Malecki, a lawyer for Malecki Law who is handling the case for the complainants.
In April 2011, New York State Attorney General’s office also launched an investigation into Robert Henry Van Zandt, his late son Robert John Van Zandt, their tax prep business the Van Zandt Agency, as well as other family members and associates, for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme.
As that investigation continues the Attorney General has since implied that the case is reportedly a $20- to $30-million scheme, according to Malecki.
“We feel we currently have about one third of the people affected by this,” Malecki said. “The case has nearly doubled in size and we still get several calls with new victims every week. We’ve uncovered a lot of details already, and the more work we do the more we find out.”
On December 6, 2011, Malecki Law filed a group civil complaint with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority against MetLife Securities, worth over $4 million.
The complaint alleges that MetLife Securities “failed to provide adequate and meaningful supervision over their branch office, allowing one of their registered representatives, Robert Henry Van Zandt, to solicit and sell unregistered securities to, defraud and steal from the claimants in a Ponzi scheme through his position as the owner of the Van Zandt Agency, a branch office of the respondent as prominently featured on business cards and elsewhere.”
The complaint also alleges that Robert Henry Van Zandt built up trust among his customers, and used brochures to solicit them to invest their nest eggs through him with assurances of annual returns starting at 9 percent. It alleges that, in actuality, they were putting their money into a Ponzi scheme and that MetLife Securities failed to exercise the necessary oversight to prevent that from taking place.
The amount of the complaint filed has seen grown to $9 million, according to Malecki.
“We understand from the D.A.’s office that there were hundreds of people and $35 million involved,” Malecki said. “We have 43 investors and have spoken to close to 100 investors.”
According to Malecki, MetLife has filed an answer and a motion to dismiss certain people from the claim.
“We are confident that we will defeat any motion to dismiss because there was activity in this scheme going on during which Van Zandt was registered at MetLife,” she said. “One thing we uncovered, that we felt that should have been a huge red flag for MetLife, was that Van Zandt was terminated from his previous employer for failing to notify them of his outside business practices. The other thing we uncovered was that Van Zandt was previously involved in a Ponzi scheme in the 80s. I don’t understand how, if they did a full compliance review, they weren’t able to find that information out, if we found it out. We feel that MetLife could have stopped this.”
Van Zandt was unavailable for comment March 13. Met Life Securities has issued a “no coment” statement regarding the case and was unavailable for further comment.