A Stonington man and two others have pleaded guilty in connection with two separate investment fraud schemes that cost investors and lenders over $20 million. Robert Ponte pleaded guilty on two counts of conspiracy, 14 counts of wire fraud, and two counts of tax evasion and could be sentenced to more than 80 years in prison. Robert Rivernider of Wellington, Florida and his sister Loretta Seneca of Boynton Beach both pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud. All three will be sentenced in May later this year.
According to United States Attorney David Fein, Ponte and Rivernider used the internet and other means in one scheme to defraud investors of a “No More Bills” debt repayment program of about $3 million. The investors would typically borrow the funds from home equity lines or retirement plans with the promise of receiving between 7-10%. Their funds were used by Ponte and Rivernider to pay for living expenses and for their own pre-existing debts. The men successfully operated this scam from June of 2005 to April of 2008.
In a second scheme, Rivernider, Ponte, and Seneca recruited borrowers to take out financing to purchase various investment properties primarily located in Tennessee and Florida. They would then represent that the properties were being sold at a large discount and instead mark up the price often by as much as 25%. The trio falsely represented that the properties would produce sufficient income to cover the expenses and reduce the borrowers’ debt burden.
The conspirators are also accused of making false representations on loan applications and documents in a scheme that involved at least 100 properties. According to the government, these scams cost lending institutions more than $20 million.
Ponte faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years for conspiring on the first investment fraud scheme, and a maximum term of imprisonment of 30 years for conspiring on the second real estate investment scheme. The wire fraud charges carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 or 30 years and the tax evasion counts carry a maximum term of imprisonment of five years for each count.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys John H. Durham and Christopher W. Schmeisser.