He was living the high life-taking up residence in a Miami Beach mansion worth more than $5 million, cruising around in a million-dollar yacht and his leased Mercedes-Benz, shelling out more than $400,000 for floor seats at Miami Heat basketball games, and donating thousands of dollars to the athletic program of a local university (the school was so appreciative it named a student athlete lounge after him).
But it all came crashing down on Florida businessman Nevin Shapiro last month,
The former owner and chief executive officer of Capitol Investments USA, Inc., a purported wholesale grocery distribution business, was charged in a criminal complaint with operating an $880 million Ponzi scheme, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
In reality, Capitol had no active wholesale grocery business during the time period relevant to this complaint. In fact, Capitol had virtually no business sales. Shapiro used new investor funds to make principal and interest payments to existing investors, as well as to fund his own lavish lifestyle.
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"Scammers, con artists, and swindlers will do and say anything to get you to buy into their scheme," stated William P. Offord, Special Agent in Charge, IRS-Criminal Investigation. "Remember the old cliché, ‘If it's too good to be true, it probably is.'"
So how can you avoid being victimized by a Ponzi scheme? A few tips:
• Be careful of any investment opportunity that makes exaggerated earnings claims.
• Exercise due diligence in selecting investments and the people with whom you invest-in other words, do your homework!
• Consult an unbiased third party, like an unconnected broker or licensed financial advisor, before investing.
If you think you have already been conned in a Ponzi scheme-or are suspicious about a pending investment-contact your local FBI field office or local authorities.
It is important to note that institutions don't commit fraud, companies don't commit fraud - people commit fraud.
We must be vigilant against fraud, recognizing its signs and taking proactive, definite, and realistic steps to not only prevent it but also punish it.
It starts with me.
It starts with you.
It starts with us...