NYC man gets 6 years in $33M Ponzi scheme

Published 12:38 am Sunday, December 13, 2009

An investment fund manager drew a reduced six-year prison sentence Friday in a $33 million Ponzi scheme that cheated 27 investors in the United States, Germany and Costa Rica.

John Montana, 57, of Staten Island was one of four people convicted of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering in the two-year scam. At least $13.6 million has not been returned to investors defrauded between July 1999 to July 2001, federal prosecutors say.

“I’m nothing more than a small business owner seeking the American dream,” Montana said before his sentencing. He told the judge he was gullible but “never intended to lead anybody to any harm.”

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To which, U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa countered: “You certainly committed this crime. To suggest that you were duped … I don’t believe you.”

Even so, the judge took into account Montana’s lack of a prior conviction and his devotion to his family in deviating from a recommended eight-to-10-year sentence under federal court guidelines. The judge also granted bail, giving Montana until Jan. 8 to surrender to prison authorities.

Montana was ordered to make restitution to the victims, some of whom lost their entire life savings. Two investors lived in Germany and Costa Rica, the others in California, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon, Michigan, Mississippi, New York and Washington state.

Gail Eldridge of Marietta, Ga., drew a 20-year sentence last month; Paul Knight of Kodak, Tenn., got 14 years Wednesday and Mervyn Lyttle of Aurora, Ill., is to be sentenced Feb. 17.

Prosecutors say the group solicited investments by promoting a secret “high-yield investment program” involving the world’s largest banks. The scheme falsely promised investors extraordinarily high rates of return — some as high as 30 percent a week.

As much as $20 million was returned to investors who complained about their losses or threatened legal action. Others were lulled by false promises and threats of $5 million forfeitures into maintaining their investments and agreeing not to contact authorities, prosecutors say.