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Long IslandCrime

Ex-soccer club president Robert Rocco sentenced in Ponzi scheme

Robert Rocco leaves court in Central Islip, on

Robert Rocco leaves court in Central Islip, on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, after being sentenced to 51 months in prison for a operating a Ponzi scheme. Credit: Ed Betz

The former president of the Dix Hills Soccer Club was sentenced Tuesday to more than 4 years in prison for operating a Ponzi scheme that looted the youth group’s treasury and three dozen participants’ parents, volunteers and others of millions of dollars.

“I don’t want to give you any excuses. . . . I do apologize,” Robert Rocco, 48, of Dix Hills, told U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler in Central Islip before he was sentenced to 51 months. It was the maximum time Wexler could have given under suggested sentencing guidelines.

Wexler noted that a number of people had written letters supporting Rocco.

“Everyone says he’s a good man. . . . I don’t consider him a good man. He is a crook; he stole from people,” the judge said.

While the scheme took in $5 million, a number of victims received payments early, often with their own money, as is typical in a Ponzi fraud before it collapses. This left the 36 victims with a total loss of $3.4 million, officials said.

But as Wexler noted in ordering restitution, Rocco had little money left and the victims were unlikely to get much back. After prison, Rocco must also serve 3 years of supervised release.

Rocco’s attorney, Richard Haley of Islandia, asked for leniency, noting his client had no previous convictions. Haley said Rocco at first was trying only to keep his troubled investment firm — Limestone Capital Services in Melville — afloat.

Eastern District prosecutor Allen Bode said Rocco cheated “soccer dads — people whose kids were playing soccer with his kids.” Four of the victims were present in the court, but did not wish to speak, Bode said.

Rocco pleaded guilty in December to a single count of wire fraud.

Reached after the sentencing, Martin Targett, president of the league, declined to comment. The league has 600 to 700 youths playing on a variety of teams. Targett has said that the scheme did not affect the league’s teams.

Rocco, who had sole control of the league treasury, used much of the money in that account in 2010 — about $67,000 — to keep the scheme going, according to court records. He concealed that loss at first by telling a volunteer that the club did not have enough funds to continue operating and convinced that unnamed person to donate $45,000, court records said.

In a broader scheme including investors outside the club, Rocco promised returns of 15 percent to 18 percent by investing in businesses he falsely claimed he was operating, according to the records.

One of the businesses supposedly made money by providing financing for the bulk purchase of wholesale cigarettes for a tobacco shop on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation, the records said.

The money was not used for financing cigarette purchases, and the Shinnecocks were not involved or aware of the scheme, the records said. Rocco eventually falsely told his victims that the inventory of cigarettes had been stolen by a rival tribe and wasn’t insured, the records said.

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