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Prison for Mount Sinai man in Ponzi scheme

A Mount Sinai man convicted of stealing $3 million in a Ponzi scheme was sentenced Wednesday to 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution to his victims.

Before he was sentenced in Suffolk County Court, Steven Diaz, 47, heard some of his victims tell County Court Judge Gary Weber that Diaz not only stole their money, but betrayed their trust.

Diaz's victims included up to a dozen friends and neighbors, prosecutors said.

Kim Vengilio, of Mount Sinai, said her family had been close to Diaz and his family. But she said she lost so much money to Diaz that she could not send her son to parochial school.

Vengilio compared Diaz to disgraced financier Bernard Madoff. She was one of three victims to speak at the sentencing.

"Steve Diaz took advantage of our trust," she said in court. "His family lived in the lap of luxury while hardworking families like ours suffered."

Diaz used the stolen money to buy a Ferrari, a second home in Florida, family vacations and tickets to concerts and sporting events, prosecutors said.

He was convicted last year at a bench trial of grand larceny and scheme to defraud. Prosecutors said some of Diaz's victims had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Diaz's attorney, Leonard Lato of Central Islip, said the sentence was "reasonable under the circumstances."

Assistant District Attorney Raphael Pearl had asked Weber to impose a sentence of 10 to 30 years in prison. But Pearl said later he was "happy the judge sentenced him to state prison."

Diaz had asked friends and neighbors to invest in the Duraclean franchise he operated, prosecutors said. The franchise, which sold fire, mold and flood remediation services, was stripped from Diaz in January 2006, said Vince Caffarello, president of the Arlington Heights, Ill., company.

Caffarello said the company has spent $400,000 defending itself against lawsuits filed by Diaz's victims.

In court, Caffarello called Diaz "the man with the silver tongue" and said he was "one of the most talented individuals I have ever known."

But, he said, Diaz used his gifts "to become a con man."

Diaz's sentence was "a travesty of justice," Caffarello said outside court.

In a brief statement in court, Diaz apologized to his victims.

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