Convicted fraudster Robert Van Zandt will serve a prison term for bilking people who invested in his company’s Ponzi scheme.
Restitution and the recovery of millions to scores of victims who entrusted their life savings, retirement accounts, and inheritances to Van Zandt will be left to investor civil actions and a state attorney general’s civil case seeking $35 million for over 250 investors.
Van Zandt, 70, pled guilty to a 33-count criminal indictment that includes two counts of securities fraud under the state’s Martin Act which regulates securities, as well as 29 counts of felony grand larceny, and two counts of scheme to defraud.
According to the plea, Van Zandt can receive from 3 years and 8 months to 11 years when he is sentenced on January 5, 2015. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office prosecuted Van Zandt.
“Securities fraud is a serious crime which my office will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law,” he said. “Mr. Van Zandt stole his victims’ life savings, forcing some of them to re-enter the workplace after their retirement. Others will have to rely on government assistance to survive. The perpetrators of this and other Ponzi schemes will face justice.”
Van Zandt’s criminal charges focused on a period from 2008 to 2012 in which he was collecting money from 29 tax preparation clients, in amounts ranging from $25,000 to $900,000.
The disgraced local businessman told these clients he would invest their money in real estate, U.S. government backed securities, and other investments, according to the A.G.
Instead he used the money for personal and business expenses (sometimes to other investors) and the funds he collected were not legitimately invested, the A.G.’s office stated.
“Mr. Van Zandt truly regrets the financial harm he caused to investors, many of whom were long-term clients,” said Michael Bachner, Van Zandt’s attorney. “Regrettably, after the financial collapse in 2008, Mr. Van Zandt unsuccessfully tried to recapture investor loses by selling securities not registered in New York State.”
Bachner added that Van Zandt’s losses were aggravated by theft from employees, including Van Zandt’s son, who committed suicideshortly after the scheme collapsed. He said that people involved in this theft have not been prosecuted.
Several years ago, Van Zandt clients told the Bronx Times that Van Zandt’s tax business was seeking their money for what seemed like legitimate investment purposes.
“They had fliers on the desk saying to invest in these things and you would get nine percent,” said victim Stan Pliny in 2011.
Jenice Malecki, a securities attorney, said she represents about 100 of Van Zandt’s former clients.
“Certainly the guilty plea helps provide some comfort and closure to these investors,” she said. “I think a lot of them would be distressed if he only got 3.8 years.”