By A.J. ALGIER
Sun Staff Writer
Robert M. Ponte, 59, formerly of Pawcatuck, has been sentenced to more than 7½ years in a federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for his role in two schemes that caused a loss of more than $25 million to individual investors and lending institutions.
Ponte appeared Wednesday before U.S District Judge Robert N. Chatignay in Hartford. On Tuesday, Robert Rivernider, 48, of Wellington, Fla., who was accused of being Ponte’s co-conspirator, was sentenced to 12 years in prison, followed by five years of supervised release. A third person charged in the same case, Loretta Seneca of Boynton Beach, Fla., Rivernider’s sister, has yet to be sentenced.
According to court documents and statements made in court, between June 2005 and April 2008, Rivernider and Ponte defrauded people by misrepresenting that their money would be invested in legitimate, high-return investments. As part of the conspiracy, investigators said the men used the Internet and other means to market a debt payment program called No More Bills through The Hudson Group, an entity that Ponte established. The victims typically borrowed from their 401(k) retirement plans or tapped home equity lines of credit.
According to the arrest information, the men promised a substantial investment return, typically a monthly repayment on the invested monies of approximately 7 to 10 percent of the initial investment; that the returns would continue for a period substantially longer than needed to recoup the initial investment; that the investors’ existing debts and home equity lines of credit, if taken out to fund the investment, would be repaid in full from investment returns; and that the investors’ monies were being invested offshore in legitimate foreign currency exchanges, hedge funds or other high-yield ventures.
Prosecutors said, however, that the money went into a Ponzi scheme, and was used to make payments to previous investors and to meet the living expenses of the defendants and their extended families.
Through this first scheme, investors lost approximately $2.2 million, prosecutors said.
Real estate scheme
In a second scheme, between about November 2006 and December 2007, the two men and Seneca were charged with engaging in a real estate investment conspiracy. As part of the scheme, the defendants recruited borrowers to take out financing to buy investment properties, primarily in Tennessee and Florida, with financing from various lenders. Prosecutors said that Rivernider and Ponte typically represented to borrowers that these properties would be passive investments, and that they would be responsible for the details of the purchase, rental, maintenance and payment of the mortgages on the properties.
The co-conspirators made false representations to the borrowers that they would arrange for the purchase of the properties at discounted values, prosecutors said.
However, Rivernider and Ponte frequently marked up the purchase price of the properties to the victim borrowers, often by as much as 25 percent, without disclosing the increase. Prosecutors said the two men and others also falsely represented that the investment properties would return to the victim borrowers sufficient monies to cover the carrying costs, as well as reduce the borrowers’ other debt burdens.
Prosecutors said Rivernider, Ponte, Seneca and others victimized lenders by making multiple false representations in loan applications and other documents. Prosecutors told the court that Seneca, a mortgage broker, was actively involved in the transactions, including organizing and gathering many of the materials needed by the victim lenders, gathering information from the borrowers, providing comparable valuations based on properties brokered by Riverender to be used for supposedly independent appraisals, and a range of other background tasks necessary for the lenders to make the loans.
This scheme involved at least 100 properties, and the investigation has revealed that the lending institutions suffered more than $23 million in losses.
Records indicated that one of the lenders, Bayview Loan Servicing LLC, which is headquartered in Coral Gables, Fla., incurred a substantial loss on Ponte’s former home at 49 High Ridge Drive in Pawcatuck. He was accused of recruiting his parents to obtain financing for the property, a five-bedroom home on 1.9 acres. It sold for $1,275,000 in 2006 and was foreclosed by Bayview, selling for $625,000 in March 2012.
Chatigny will issue an order within 90 days requiring Rivernider to pay full restitution to the victims of both schemes, prosecutors said.
Rivernider pleaded guilty on Feb. 25, 2013, to two counts of conspiracy and 16 counts of wire fraud, and Seneca pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of wire fraud. On March 1, 2013, Ponte pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy, 14 counts of wire fraud and two counts of tax evasion. All three guilty pleas occurred during the middle of a trial, and Rivernider pleaded guilty to all counts of the indictment in which he was charged.
The FBI and the Internal Revenue Service investigated the case, which was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John H. Durham and Christopher W. Schmeisser.