A Dix Hills man and two Brooklyn men are facing security and wire fraud charges of operating a scheme to defraud as many as 50 elderly individuals out of a combined $2 million in valueless stock, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
Keith Orlean, 60, of Pheasant Run Lane in Dix Hills, and Vladimir Ziskind, 49, and Kevin Weinzoff, 53, both of Brooklyn, were to be arraigned Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman in District Court in Manhattan.
The men are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud. They face up to 25 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
Authorities said the three men, using fake names, targeted the elderly, encouraging them to purchase “time-sensitive” stocks in companies that were actually controlled by the defendants.
“The defendants worked together over several years to trick elderly individuals into investing millions of dollars in worthless stock,” said Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. “The defendants allegedly deceived their victims into handing over their hard-earned money in exchange for nothing but lies and false promises.”
Orlean’s attorney, Robert Gottlieb of Manhattan, declined to discuss specifics but said his client pleaded not guilty, then was released on a $350,000 personal bond.
“I think everyone must take what the government is alleging with a serious grain of salt,” Gottlieb said. “We entered a plea of not guilty, and the battle just begins.”
Attorneys for Ziskind and Weinzoff did not immediately return calls late Thursday afternoon.
Prosecutors said the defendants operated a scheme since 2014 in which Orlean, using the alias “Jack Allen,” and Ziskind and Weinzoff, using the alias “Mike Palmer,” would make unsolicited calls to senior citizens and use “high pressure sales tactics” to buy stock in companies under their control.
Investigators said that in one intercepted call, Ziskind described to Orlean a successful sales pitch as “ram it down their [expletive] throat.” When Ziskind learned that an investor had died, authorities said he told Orlean that “I knew I should have pulled the last $10,000 out of him,” according to another intercepted call.
In their most recent sales pitch, the men told potential investors about an initial public offering for their company, Digital Donations Technologies Inc., prosecutors said. The men reportedly told the unsuspecting investors that the company was valued at more than $300 million but that there was an impending sale for more than $1.5 billion, officials said.
The firm, operating out of offices in Melville, had little to no actual commercial value, and there was no impending IPO or sale, authorities said.
“We take all cases of securities fraud seriously, but there are few fraud schemes sleazier than defrauding elderly victims through deceit and manipulation,” said FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney Jr.
With Ellen Yan