NEW YORK, April 18 (Reuters) - Three men were charged
Wednesday with bilking $15 million from hundreds of individuals
who thought they were investing in lawsuit settlements, federal
Peter Liounis, Ruslan Rapoport and Roman Tsimerman
collaborated on three different fraudulent investment schemes
between December 2008 and April 2012, according to a complaint
filed in Brooklyn federal court.
Liounis, charged with wire fraud, is in custody. His lawyer
declined to comment. Tsimerman, charged with money laundering,
also is in custody, and "as far as I can see, is not guilty,"
said his lawyer. Rapoport, charged with conspiracy to commit
wire fraud and money laundering, is not yet in custody,
according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office.
All three are scheduled to appear in Brooklyn federal court
Between December 2008 and November 2009, the defendants ran
a company called the Rockford Group, which marketed itself as a
"leading private equity firm" that would invest money in
personal-injury and other litigation, prosecutors said.
Investors were promised 15 percent of any money the plaintiffs
recovered from the suits, said prosecutors.
But the Rockford Group never invested in any litigation and
instead wired investors' money to overseas bank accounts,
prosecutors said. As a result, roughly 200 U.S. and Canadian
investors lost approximately $11 million, according to the
In September 2010, an individual who was solicited by the
Rockford Group received another phone call from someone who
sounded similar to his contact at the Rockford Group, the
complaint said. The person making the calls said he was "Andrew
Black from UBS," the complaint said, and was soliciting
investments in an initial public offering of General Motors
Federal agents contacted UBS and determined there was no
Andrew Black. The scheme was halted and funds were returned,
prosecutors said. Liounis was later identified as "Andrew
Black," the complaint said.
In March 2011, the defendants embarked on a third scheme,
soliciting investments once again in litigation funding, the
complaint said. This time they identified the company as
Grayson Hewitt, according to the complaint.
Instead of using the money as purported, the defendants
spent the funds purchasing gold, meals, clothing and other
items, the complaint said.
In one phone call prosecutors said was caught on a
court-ordered wiretap, a Grayson Hewitt investors expressed
concern that the company was just "a Bernie Madoff deal,"
referring to the infamous Ponzi schemer.
"You gotta understand, the amount of money we handle here,
uh, we'd go away for a hell of a lot longer than Bernie did,"
Liounis told the investor, according to the complaint.
The Grayson Hewitt scheme cost investors approximately $5
million, the complaint stated.
Liounis and Rapoport face up to 20 years in prison.
Tsimerman faces a maximum sentence of 10 years.
The case is U.S. v. Liounis et al., in the U.S. District
Court for the Eastern District of New York, no. 12-379.
For Liounis: Kelley Sharkey.
For Tsimerman: Sal Strazullo
For Rapoport: Not immediately available.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye)
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