A Melville man was charged Tuesday with fraud for running what federal prosecutors called a two-year, $200 million Ponzi scheme based on buying and then reselling bogus jewelry at much higher prices.
Many of the victims were described in court papers as police officers, firefighters or first responders from Long Island, Queens, Staten Island, and other places, who were promised returns of up to 75% within months on their investments, officials said.
Gregory Altieri, 53, president of LNA Associates, was charged with one count of wire fraud, authorities said. He pleaded not guilty at a telephonic arraignment in federal District Court in Brooklyn and was released on a $750,000 bond.
“Altieri defrauded investors, including retirees living off their pensions, by representing that he was buying and reselling jewelry for big profits, which was a lie,” said acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District Seth DuCharme.
William Sweeney, the head of the FBI in New York, added: “As a result of his actions, the FBI provided him with stainless steel jewelry for his wrists today.”
Altieri’s attorney, Edward Sapone, of Sapone and Petrillo in Garden City, would only comment on his client’s being released on bond.
“Pretrial detention leads to an 18% increase in the rate of conviction and a 42% increase in the length of sentence," he said. "Mr. Altieri is grateful not to be part of those statistics and that he will be fighting this case from our law offices, and not from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. “
As outlined in court papers, the scheme centered around Alfieri claiming that he could purchase large lots of jewels and resell them at vastly higher prices with his investors pocketing much of the profits.
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.
Officials said beginning in August 2018, Altieri solicited between $75 million to $85 million from more than 80 investors to buy jewelry at “closeout” prices and then resell it at a high profit. When Altieri stopped making paybacks to investors in January, he owed them approximately $200 million based on the falsely inflated promised returns, prosecutors said.
Roland Riopelle, an attorney for a man who is listed in court papers as one of the victims, said his client lost a lot of money.
“He lost hundreds of thousands of dollars he had inherited from his mother,” Riopelle said of his client.
An attorney representing many of the victims in a civil case could not be reached for comment immediately.