.- A New York businessman pleaded guilty Monday to mail fraud and tax evasion in a scam that conned millions of dollars from primarily Catholic investors.
With about 150 of his victims present to watch him, 82-year-old Richard Piccoli admitted to running a Ponzi scheme aimed at Catholics for nearly two decades.
Piccoli, owner of Gen-See Capital Corp, declined to comment after his appearance in the U.S. District Court in Buffalo. Piccoli had been advertising for his company primarily in Catholic publications, targeting clergy and Church entities, and offering priests as references.
Piccoli admitted Monday to promising unusually high guaranteed returns on real estate investments he knew didn't exist. He then paid early investors by collecting new investment money from more victims.
When he was arrested in January, authorities said Piccoli had stolen at least $17 million from over 250 investors.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has moved to freeze Piccoli’s assets.
Kevin Keenan, a spokesman for the Diocese of Buffalo, said that although Piccoli had advertised in the diocesan newspaper, The Western New York Catholic, the diocese did not have any investments with him.
Keenan told CNA on Tuesday that the diocese not take a position on the trial or sentencing.
Regarding the credibility of advertisers, Keenan stated that the policy of the Western New York Catholic is to “conduct background checks on financial advisors who seek to advertise” in the newspaper.
“We only accept advertising from registered investment advisors who are members of the FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States,” he explained.
Piccoli will be sentenced on October 21. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison and substantial fines.