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Former president of Dix Hills Soccer Club pleads guilty to running Ponzi scheme

The former president of the Dix Hills Soccer Club admitted in federal court Tuesday to operating a Ponzi scheme that looted the youth group's treasury and two dozen participants' parents, volunteers and others of $5 million.

Robert Rocco, 48, of Dix Hills pleaded guilty in federal court in Central Islip to a single count of wire fraud and briefly outlined his role in the scheme to U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler.

As part of the plea agreement, Rocco faces 46 to 57 months in prison, officials said. The plea also calls for Rocco to repay the victims about $3.5 million -- money Rocco says he doesn't have, sources said.

Though Rocco's scheme took in about $5 million, some of the victims were paid back with other people's money or some of their own before the swindle collapsed, officials said.

Rocco's attorney, Richard Haley of Islandia, declined to comment afterward, as did Eastern District federal prosecutor Allen Bode.

Martin Targett, the current league president, declined to comment on the plea. Targett said Rocco's scheme did not affect the operation of the league, which has 600 to 700 youths on various 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.

But he told a volunteer the club did not have enough funds to continue operating and convinced that unnamed person to donate $45,000, the records said.

In the broader scheme, Rocco promised investors returns of 15 percent to 18 percent by investing in two 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 in the scheme, the records said.

Rocco later falsely told his victims that the inventory of cigarettes had been stolen by a rival tribe and wasn't insured, the records said.

The second scheme involved a Rocco company that supposedly got businesses to switch from their credit card processor to one recommended by Rocco in return for a fee from the new processor. That money was used in the Ponzi scheme, according to records.

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