A federal judge has entered an $87 million judgment against convicted Ponzi schemer Eliyahu Weinstein in a suit by investors who funded his phony real estate ventures.
The judgment represents money that was solicited by Weinstein for real estate investments but was not used for the purpose that was promised. The judgments were entered against Weinstein and his company, Pine Projects, in connection with investments made by five parties toward 10 real estate investments.
The plaintiffs first sued Weinstein over the fraudulent real estate deals in 2008. But the civil case was stayed from November 2010 until October 2016 while criminal proceedings against Weinstein were pending.
Weinstein was sentenced to 264 months in prison in February 2014 for running a real estate investment fraud scheme that caused $200 million in losses following his guilty plea in January 2013 to one count each of money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. In December 2014, he was sentenced to an additional 24 months for defrauding investors in connection with the initial public offering of Facebook stock and for laundering proceeds of the real estate scheme. That came after he pleaded guilty to an additional count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of committing wire fraud while on pretrial release, and one count of money laundering. He also faces restitution orders totaling more than $221 million.
U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson granted partial summary judgment in January to the plaintiffs in the civil suit, Harvey Wolinetz and four corporations, Park Capital Funding, HDW 2005, H&N Associates and Aretz Associates. The amount of damages was left to be determined later. The plaintiffs’ motion was unopposed, as Weinstein, who is pro se and incarcerated in a federal prison, did not respond to the motion.
On Tuesday, Thompson entered judgment for $21.4 million in damages to Wolinetz, $42.5 million to Park Capital Funding, $3.9 million to H&N Associates, $12.7 million to Aretz Associates and $7.4 million to HDW 2005.
Authorities said Weinstein, of Lakewood, convinced victims that he had inside access to certain real estate opportunities that allowed him to buy a particular piece of property at a below-market price. He represented to victims that they were investing in various apartment complexes, shopping centers and vacant land in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee.
Bolstering his fraud by creating various false documents, he targeted victims from the Orthodox Jewish community to which he belonged, exploiting his knowledge of its customs and practices to further his scheme, in what’s known as “affinity fraud,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey said. He took advantage of the Orthodox Jewish community’s practice of engaging in transactions based on trust, and without paperwork, to obtain money from his victims without substantial records, authorities said.
Prosecutors said he used the plaintiffs’ funds for charitable and religious contributions, in order to elevate his reputation in the Orthodox Jewish community, and spent it on luxury cars, credit card bills, gambling trips to Las Vegas, jewelry and watches, and million dollars’ worth of antique Judaica and other artwork.
Patrick Rocco of Fleischman, Bonner & Rocco in Summit, New Jersey, representing the plaintiffs, had no comment. His co-counsel, William Scherer of Conrad & Scherer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, did not return calls about the case.
Another case involving a victim of Weinstein’s fraud is awaiting a hearing before state Supreme Court. Moshe Meisels, a real estate investor from England, claims Fox Rothschild improperly transferred $2.4 million from the firm’s trust account to Weinstein.
After Weinstein convinced Meisels to invest in property in Irvington, New Jersey, Weinstein directed Meisels to transfer funds into Fox Rothschild’s attorney trust account. Some of the funds later ended up in the coffers of Weinstein’s businesses, and $75,000 of it went to Fox Rothschild.
In June 2018, the Appellate Division said Meisels has standing and can pursue a claim for conversion against Fox Rothschild. The appeals court affirmed dismissal of Meisels’ claim that Fox Rothschild committed a breach of its fiduciary duty. The law firm appealed, and in November 2018, the Supreme Court agreed to take the case. No date for arguments has been announced.