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A Stonington man and two others have pleaded guilty in the midst of their trial in U.S. District Court in connection with two separate investment schemes that cost investors and lenders more than $20 million.
Robert Ponte, 59, of Stonington pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy, 14 counts of wire fraud and two counts of tax evasion. He could be sentenced to more than 80 years in prison on May 24.
Ponte and two co-conspirators had gone on trial before U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny in Hartford on Feb. 7.
Robert Rivernider, 47, of Wellington, Fla., and his sister, Loretta Seneca, 50, of Boynton Beach, Fla., both pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud. They are scheduled to be sentenced May 21 and May 20, respectively.
"As the overwhelming evidence in this trial revealed, Rivernider and Ponte recruited individuals to invest their money by making false promises of guaranteed, high returns," stated U.S. Attorney David Fein. "Their investment program was nothing more than a Ponzi scheme, which left several investors in financial ruin. With the assistance of Ms. Seneca, these defendants also engaged in a real estate investment scheme that defrauded more individuals, as well as lending institutions."
According to Fein's office, Ponte and Rivernider used the Internet and other means to defraud investors of a "No More Bills" debt repayment program of about $3 million. The investors typically borrowed the funds from home equity lines of credit or their 401 (k) retirement plans with the promise of receiving returns of 7 to 10 percent. Ponte and Rivernider used the funds to pay for living expenses and for the pre-existing debts of other investors, according to the government. The men operated the scam from June 2005 to April 2008.
In a second scheme, Rivernider, Ponte and Seneca recruited borrowers to take out financing to purchase various investment properties, primarily in Tennessee and Florida, with financing from victim lenders. While representing that the properties were being sold at deep discount, Rivernider and Ponte marked up the price, often by as much as 25 percent, and falsely represented that the properties would produce sufficient income to cover the expenses and reduce the borrowers' debt burden.
The conspirators made false representations on loan applications and documents, according to the government. This scheme involved at least 100 properties, and cost lending institutions more than $20 million, according to the government.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service–Criminal Investigation and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys John H. Durham and Christopher W. Schmeisser.