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Former LI businessman sentenced to 2 years in prison in wine scheme

The Alfonse M. D'Amato U.S Courthouse in Central

The Alfonse M. D'Amato U.S Courthouse in Central Islip in October 2017. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

A former Long Island wine distributor, who used a 2012 appearance on the TV show "Shark Tank" to lure investors into a scheme, was sentenced Friday to 24 months in prison for wire fraud, officials said.

Joseph Falcone, 60, who had operated 3G’s VINO based in Bethpage and Farmingdale, was also ordered to serve two years of supervised release. He also has to pay $1.8 million in restitution and was fined $10,000 by U.S. District Judge Sandra Feuerstein in federal court in Central Islip. Under the terms of a plea deal, Falcone faced a guideline sentence from 21 to 27 months.

Falcone’s plan to sell single-serving wine in a sealed plastic glass — also known as wine-in-a-cup — attracted some publicity because the inventor turned down an offer of financial support from the nationally well-known business investors regularly featured on the show. Participants who appear on the show are usually anxious to get investments for their startup businesses.

Falcone had not invented the product, but supposedly wanted investors funding to purchase inventory to sell.

"Falcone’s victims were reeled in by his "Shark Tank" pitch, but with today’s sentence, the defendant is now squarely on the hook for his crimes," Acting Eastern District United States Attorney Seth DuCharme said afterward.

Before he was sentenced, Falcone told the court: "I’m extremely sorry … It haunts me every day."

Falcone’s attorney, James Druker, said his client had started out to make money for himself and his investors.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions," Druker said after the sentencing.

Federal prosecutor Bradley King said in court papers that Falcone eventually got other people to invest $1.8 million in his company, but spent $527,000 of that for a mortgage payments on his home in Melbourne, Florida, and trading securities for his personal account.

King also noted that Falcone was convicted of unrelated securities fraud in 1999 and sentenced to one-year of probation.

A number of unidentified victims of the scheme submitted sealed impact statements. King said one of the victims, only identified as Jane Doe, said she not only lost $150,000 in Falcone’s scheme, but he also "stole … [her] confidence, trust and belief in her own judgment."

Another victim, identified by prosecutor King as John Doe, was an employee of Falcone’s who invested in the scheme, and also persuaded his sister to do so. Both brother and sister lost their money.

"Mr. Doe suffered severe financial consequences, including having a bank account closed, falling behind on his mortgage and other bills and having accounts closed for lack of payment," King said.

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