Given how absolutely outrageous the allegations are in this federal Indictment, perhaps it's best that I note, upfront, that an Indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. Admittedly, I got that out through gritted teeth.
On November 15, 2011, Adriano Sotomayor, 54, Margate, NJ, was charged by a federal grand jury in Philadelphia, PA, with 13 counts of wire fraud and one count of aiding and abetting. As these things go, not so unusual. In accordance with a warrant for his arrest, the feds attempted that on November 16th but apparently were unable to get their man; however, Sotomayor contacted his pursuers and agreed to surrender on November 22, 2011. Hey, all's well that ends well.
Except, you know how these things go, when you got a guy who's been charged with some 14 federal criminal counts it's not the best of ideas to trust in his honesty and integrity. Surprise, surprise - Sotomayor never showed up on November 22 and thus began his life as a fugitive.
SIDE BAR: See the FBI \"WANTED\" Poster for Sotomayor
Some three months later, on February 27, 2012, the FBI Fugitive Squad got its man and captured Sotomayor in Las Vegas, NV. He now awaits trial.
Having put the cart before the horse, now let me dwell, for a bit, on exactly what Defendant Sotomayor had been charged with allegedly doing.
The Indictment alleged that between May 2009 and June 2011, Sotomayor defrauded 24 victims, including members of the Dominican Sisters of the Rosary of Fatima. Yeah, Sotomayor allegedly defrauded nuns. Just when you think you've seen and heard the worst of everything, life has an uncanny way of getting your attention and letting you know that you haven't quite hit bottom.
Allegedly, Sotomayor convinced an elderly nun - an elderly nun, as if this scam wasn't disgusting enough - that he was a New Jersey Catholic priest and the testator of a parishioner. According to the story that he spun, Sotomayor told the nun that she had been named in the parishioner's will as the beneficiary of an estate estimated at approximately $2.1 million.
Of course, you know, there's gonna be some hidden costs, fees, and charges involved in getting that $2.1 million to this Sister of Fatima. In fact, Sotomayor explained (albeit in his role as the bogus priest) that the nun needed to send him money to pay taxes, processing fees, and legal fees in order to probate the will.
Sadly, the nun forwarded the funds to Sotomayor in Atlantic City, NJ. Having struck gold with this scam, Sotomayor is accused of keeping this scheme running for some two years to the tune of $439,153 by targeting additional victims, who then sent money on the elderly nun's behalf. In retrospect, some of those defrauded might have been a bit more concerned as to why the requested wire transfers were directed to Sotomayor at such non-religious institutions as the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, the Showboat Hotel and Casino, and Bally's Park Place, among other places. On the other hand, you're supposedly dealing with a priest, a parishioner who left a ton of cash to a nun, and, alas, human nature is what it is.
If convicted, Sotomayor faces a maximum possible sentence of 260 years' imprisonment, a $3.25 million fine, three years of supervised release, and a $1,300 special assessment.
Okay, I'll give you that this isn't a huge Wall Street fraud involving Bernie Madoff or some Rajaratnam-like insider trading ring that involved information about Intel or IBM. In fact, we don't even come close to the complex issues of the Congressional investigation of Goldman Sachs or MF Global. On the other hand, it's exactly these smaller scams run by lowlife con artists that impose devastating harm among those who can least afford to bear the losses.
Fact is, this case isn't about Wall Street or securities fraud. Nonetheless, it serves an important purpose by reminding folks that there are only so many FBI agents, so many prosecutors, and so many dollars available to fight crime. Keep in mind that while we're chasing after the likes of Madoff, Rajaratnam, and other Wall Streeters that there are lots of elderly nuns and other vulnerable citizens who are exposed to the deprivations of thugs, hoodlums, and scamsters. To choose to make one type of crime a priority often diminishes the resources available for others. We always need to be careful not to become so enamored with the high-profile, big-dollar crimes that we forget to protect the little guy.
As I wrote in ‘The Shadow World of Wall Street's Small Time Scams"("Street Sweeper" May 26, 2011) :
Our nation's regulators and prosecutors run after the high-profile crooks like Rajaratnam, but it is this pernicious, lower-level crime that riddles our markets and destroys investor confidence. The big boys victimized by the whales of Wall Street can often absorb their losses. The small fry - the VFW crowd and the local yokels - their losses are often measured in irreplacable nest eggs and family businesses. Unfortunately, it too often comes down to what generates the most publicity and results in more time on camera. . .
Congratulations to the FBI for catching Sotomayor and for the Department of Justice for staying on top of this case. Still - before you go take a shower after reading about this case, don't think it's so aberrational. For an equally nauseating companion piece read: "SEC Settles Churning Case Involving Elderly Nuns" (" Street Sweeper" January 11, 2011).