“For at least the past decade, Defendants have engaged in a fraudulent Ponzi scheme primarily targeting the elderly and members of the Catholic community,” the SEC complaint reads.
Piccoli guaranteed 7 to 8 percent return on investment and offered Catholic priests as references.
“Unlike the Ups and Downs of the stock market, Gen-See investors earn 7.1 % Annual Interest ... guaranteed no interest fluctuation," one ad read, according to the SEC.
“[O]ur seniors and clergy are absolutely pleased with Gen-See's Re-Investment Program,” marketing materials for the alleged scam read. The materials highlight the program’s lack of fees or commissions and investors’ ability to draw a monthly check at any time with 30 days notice.
The program also promised a “significant return on capital.”
Piccoli’s clients included 50 priests in addition to churches, religious orders, and cemetery associations. He reportedly advertised in Catholic newspapers from Buffalo, New York to Anchorage, Alaska and sought clients among his fellow Knights of Columbus.
“He was very Catholic and very pro-church,” said one area priest who invested more than $50,000 in retirement savings with Gen-See told the Buffalo News. “I trusted him, and I thought, ‘Well it’s worth a risk.’”
The Western New York Catholic, the newspaper for the Diocese of Buffalo, ran some of Piccoli’s advertisements.
“Earn More Worry Less,” an October ad read, the Buffalo News says. “Your Money Deserves the Best! Gen-See Makes The Difference.”
Kevin Keenan, a spokesman for the diocese, told CNA that no diocesan funds were invested with Piccoli.
Keenan said Piccoli had run his ads in the Western New York Catholic, but no customers had complained to the paper. He added it would be unfortunate should Piccoli be proven to have used the newspaper to find customers to defraud.
“It’s a quality newspaper, and we pride ourselves on having quality advertisers,” he said to the Buffalo News.
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When CNA contacted Keenan on Friday, he said that he had conversed with Piccoli’s “shocked” clients.
“They trusted him and in some cases he was close friends with these investors, they certainly feel that that trust has been violated and they think he took advantage of their friendship,” he said.
Keenan reiterated that no money from Buffalo’s diocesan foundation was involved in the investments.
“A couple of our parishes had invested with him,” he explained, adding that “several” active and retired priests had also been victimized by the alleged Ponzi scheme.
However, the extent of their financial losses is still unknown, Keenan told CNA.
According to the Buffalo News, the SEC complaint seems to indicate that no one has yet lost any money, stating that, since January 2007, Piccoli and Gen-See Capital Corp. received more than $16 million and paid out “approximately the same amount.”