A Long Island wine distributor pleaded guilty Monday to an almost $1 million scheme, fraudulently taking advantage of publicity generated by the television show “Shark Tank.”
Joseph Falcone, 59, admitted committing wire fraud in federal court in Central Islip by claiming to investors that he would use their money to buy and distribute single-serving, sealed plastic glasses of wine — also known as wine-in-a-cup — that was featured on the television show, officials said.
Falcone collected $872,000 from unidentified investors on Long Island, between September of 2014 and November of 2015, but spent $527,000 of the money on buying a home in Florida and trading online in securities, according to officials.
The investors’ money was supposedly to be used by Falcone’s company, 3 G’s Vino in Bethpage and Farmingdale.
Falcone, now of Melbourne, Florida, theoretically faces up to 20 years in prison, but under the terms of a plea deal, he cannot appeal unless he is sentenced to more than 30 months in prison.
He must also forfeit $527,000. He was released on $500,000 bond, pending sentencing.
“Falcone lured investors into believing that they were funding an up-and-coming business,“ Eastern District U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement. “This office will continue to protect the investing public by prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law those who use deceptive practices to enrich themselves.”
Falcone and his attorney, Scott Druker, declined to comment afterward, as did Assistant U.S. Attorney Bradley King.
The business that produced the wine product was identified in court papers only as the John Doe Company. Victims are not usually named in federal court papers.
But sources identified the company as Copa da Vino.
The Oregon-based company was featured on “Shark Tank,” in which prominent investors decide whether or not they wish to invest in startup companies, whose products are pitched by the startup’s founders. In this case, the show made something of a stir when the wine-product company’s founder twice turned down financing offers, as too little, by the show’s supposed business experts.
Neither the show nor the company that produced the single-serving of wine had any connection to Falcone’s scheme, officials said.