Two key former associates of Ponzi scamster Nicholas Cosmo "made millions of dollars selling people lies," a federal prosecutor said in his opening at their trial Monday.
"The defendants knew their sales pitch was a lie [and] the victims were not investors [but] hardworking people from all walks of life," Assistant United States Attorney Bradley King said in his statement to the jury at the trial of Jason Keryc, of Wantagh, and Diane Kaylor, of Bethpage.
But defense attorneys for the two told the jury their clients were unwitting victims who knew nothing of the scheme.
Cosmo was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2011 for masterminding the scheme, which took in $405 million and cost more than 4,000 investors a total of more than $150 million. The scheme ran out of his companies, Agape World and Agape Merchant Advance, based in Hauppauge from 2003 to 2009.
Keryc is charged in federal court in Central Islip in an indictment with illegally making $16 million, and Kaylor with making $4.7 million, while working with Cosmo. Both were account representatives for Agape.
The 10-count indictment accuses Keryc and Kaylor, 35 and 37 at the time of their arrest, of securities fraud, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail fraud and wire fraud.
Kaylor knew it was a scam because she had been an Agape bookkeeper before she "decided to get in on the scheme," as a representative, King said.
Keyrc also knew Agape was a fraud, but enjoyed the lifestyle that came with it, including a BMW and beachfront property, King said.
But defense attorneys for the two said that the government has it wrong, and Keryc and Kaylor were unaware of Cosmo's illegal actions, and though they were well-compensated, they were dupes nevertheless.
Kaylor's defense attorney, David Zucker, of Kew Gardens, scoffed at the prosecutor's suggestion that his client had a sophisticated knowledge of finance because she did bookkeeping. In reality, Zucker said, Kaylor took the numbers that Cosmo gave her and entered them in Agape's records.
Zucker said his client was "just an innocent victim -- maybe, a stupid, innocent victim." Cosmo "fooled everyone, he fooled his employees -- he fooled the experts," he said.
Keryc's defense attorney, John Carman, of Garden City, noted his client was hired by Cosmo because his parents and Cosmo's lived across the street from each other in Wantagh.
To show Keryc's naivete about Cosmo's operation, Carman said the first people he got to invest in Agape were his parents and sister. He approached friends and relatives to be investors, Carman said.
The essence of the Cosmo scheme was getting the victims to invest in what they thought were short-term bridge loans to businesses at interest rates of up to 80 percent. But instead, prosecutors said, most of the investors' money went to paying commissions to representatives, such as Keryc and Kaylor; Cosmo's losing investments on commodities futures; and paying supposed interest on the loans to early investors.
The trial before U.S. District Judge Denis Hurley is expected to last several weeks.
In his opening, King said several other associates of Cosmo, who already have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing, are expected to testify against Keryc and Kaylor.
If convicted, Keryc and Kaylor each face up to 20 years in prison.