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Queens check-cashing owner admits guilt in $19M scheme

The owner of a defunct Queens-based check-cashing firm admitted Tuesday that he allowed more than $19 million in transactions to flow through his company without filing the required forms meant to deter money-laundering, federal prosecutors said.

Craig Panzera, 47, of Naples, Fla., agreed that his company, Belair Payroll Services, would forfeit almost $3.3 million, according to a statement released by Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Panzera, who remains free on $1 million bond, faces up to 5 years in prison, a spokesman for Lynch said. No sentencing date has been set.

Panzera admitted that he failed to filed the currency transaction reports that are required by the federal government for cash transactions in excess of $10,000, Lynch said.

The defendant also agreed to pay restitution to the IRS of $946,841.17 for failing to pay income and payroll taxes.

Defense attorney Paul T. Gentile of Manhattan said the statement from the prosecutor's office, "grossly overstated" the crime.

"The essence of what he did wrong was he failed to properly supervise those persons who worked for him and who actually conducted the transactions," Gentile said. "Neither Mr. Panzera nor his employees knew what was going on."

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