A self-employed Rockland County accountant pleaded guilty Friday to charges stemming from a $6 million Ponzi scheme he operated since 2001, officials said.
Alan Ritter, 69, of Monsey, pleaded to three counts of wire fraud in federal court in Manhattan, according to Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Ritter swindled his own friends out of the money, promising to invest in real estate but instead using the capital to pay off his own debts, Bharara said in a statement.
"Alan Ritter used his trusted role as an accountant to hatch a fraudulent loan scheme that quickly grew into a multimillion dollar Ponzi scheme," Bharara said. "He leaves many victims, whom he knew personally, impoverished in the wake of his fraud."
At the start, Ritter lost more than $500,000 doing unrelated business, authorities said. In an effort to cover his losses, he took hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans from associates and clients from his own practice.
In one instance, a client gave Ritter $650,000 and asked the accountant to pay some of the client's outstanding debts and keep the rest for later. But Ritter took it upon himself to swipe at least $530,000 from the pot, officials said.
As the scheme spiraled out of control, Ritter continued to borrow and embezzle funds, claiming they would go toward various business investments, but instead used the cash flow to pay interest on all preceding loans and for other personal uses.
"He took full responsibility for all these actions," Ritter's attorney Charles Clayman told Newsday. "He has been directed by the court to seek help for his gambling addiction which was the root cause of these really awful acts."
Clayman said that Ritter, who is a father of nine, is "destitute, but does wish and hope he can make amends to those people who are his victims."
Ritter faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on each count. He could also be fined $250,000.
He is due back in court for sentencing on Jan. 16.