What's another Ponzi scheme in the grand scheme of things?
A Philadelphia investment manager was charged Thursday by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which says he ran a $50 million Ponzi scheme over more than a decade. Joseph Forte, 53, who also faces charges by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), allegedly sold limited partnerships in his eponymous firm to 80 people, telling them he would invest the money in securities futures contracts like futures in the Standard & Poor's 500 index. Turns out, he did nothing of the sort. A federal court judge froze his and the firm's assets late Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Richard Piccoli, 82, was arraigned in federal court in upstate New York Thursday in an alleged $17 million Ponzi scheme using his companies, Gen See Capital Corp. and Gen Unlimited. The prosecutor contends Piccoli targeted Catholics in particular, advertising in Catholic newspapers with offers of term certificates that earned a guaranteed 7.1% annually. Prosecutors say he explained in detail to a prospective investor how he invests that money in discounted real estate mortgages, but his bank records indicate otherwise.
SEC Chairman Christopher Cox admitted last month that there are likely more frauds waiting to be unveiled, saying the SEC made several missteps in uncovering one of the largest ever, the $50 billion alleged swindle by Bernard Madoff, which unraveled over the last few weeks.
Madoff, 70, a founder of the Nasdaq market and a fixture on Wall Street for more than 40 years, stands accused of running the Ponzi over more than 30 years, bilking thousands of individuals, foundations, banks, hedge funds and others, some of whom lost everything. Prosecutors in New York, where Madoff is under house arrest, say he kept false books and deceived investors and regulators for years about the true nature of his investment advisory business.
Forte never registered with the SEC or the CFTC. Madoff, whose broker-dealer Bernard Madoff Investment Securities was one of the biggest over-the-counter market makers on Wall Street, only just registered his secretive investment advisory arm with the SEC in 2006.
All three allegedly lured investors with consistent, though faked, returns through all kinds of market turmoil, an irresistible draw for many hoping to beat the markets.