A Melville man pleaded guilty Wednesday to running a two-year, $200 million Ponzi scheme in which he defrauded investors, including police officers and firefighters from Long Island, about inflated returns for nonexistent wholesale jewelry deals, federal prosecutors said.

Gregory Altieri, 53, pleaded guilty in federal court in Brooklyn to wire fraud and securities fraud and faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced March 31 by U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan.

"With today’s guilty plea, Altieri is held accountable for duping dozens of investors, including retirees living off their pensions," said Seth DuCharme, acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. "The defendant’s lies have caught up to him and he will now face the consequences of his fraudulent scheme."

Edward Sapone, Altieri’s Garden City-based attorney, said his client "should be shown grace and mercy. He has accepted full responsibility and has made herculean efforts to make amends for his misconduct. I look forward to highlighting every one of those efforts at his sentencing hearing."

In a related action, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit against Altieri on Wednesday.

The SEC complaint charged Altieri with violations of the antifraud provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 and 1934, and seeks civil penalties and relief for the victims.

"As alleged in the complaint, Altieri defrauded current and former first responders and other investors who thought they were making safe investments," said Richard Best, director of the SEC's New York office. "We will continue to diligently pursue those who prey on investors and abuse their trust."

Altieri, who was charged in July, claimed that he could purchase large lots of jewels and then resell them at significantly higher prices with his investors pocketing much of the profits. Beginning in August 2017, Altieri solicited $75 million to $85 million in investments for his company, LNA Associates, from more than 80 investors, including police officers, firefighters and other first responders, prosecutors said.

A number of the victims were lured into the scheme through their connection to a fellow member of the Bethpage Fire Department, court papers said. That person has not been implicated in the scheme.

Altieri told investors that their money would be used to purchase jewelry at "closeout" prices, which would then be resold at a high profit, yielding returns of up to 70% within a few months, investigators said.

He initially purchased some jewelry with the investors’ money. But by May 2018, Altieri began using funds from new investors to pay earlier investors, telling the latter group they were receiving returns on their investments, prosecutors said.

These purported "returns" were used by Altieri to convince the initial investors to keep their money with LNA Associates by "rolling over" their funds into new investments based on phony promises to purchase more jewelry, authorities said.

By January of this year, Altieri stopped making payments to investors and owed them roughly $200 million, prosecutors said.

The SEC complaint alleges that Altieri also misappropriated at least $3.8 million in investor funds.

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