FBI; ATTORNEY PLEADS GUILTY TO OPERATING $18.8 MILLION PONZI SCHEME, MONEY LAUNDERING, OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE & PERJURY CHARGES

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WPCNR FBI WIRE. From the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York. September 19, 2023:

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and James Smith, the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced that ROBERT WISNICKI pled guilty today to participating in a $18.8 million Ponzi scheme designed to lure investors to purchase real estate through his New York-based law firms, Wisnicki & Associates LLP and Wisnicki Neuhauser LLP (the “Wisnicki Firms”).

WISNICKI also pled guilty to a separate conspiracy to commit money laundering using his law firm trust accounts to conceal the proceeds of healthcare fraud, during which WISNICKI obstructed justice and committed perjury while testifying before a grand jury.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As he has now admitted, Robert Wisnicki committed a wide array of criminal acts as part of multiple schemes designed to line his own pockets and cover his tracks.  As a practicing attorney, Wisnicki knew better, but he flouted the law anyway, even going so far as to obstruct justice and commit perjury while testifying before a grand jury.  Wisnicki now potentially faces years in prison and will pay millions in forfeiture and restitution to atone for his crimes.”

FBI Assistant Director in Charge James Smith said:

“Illegal activity involving the investment industry, especially Ponzi schemes, has unfortunately brought financial ruin to many Americans.  While Wisnicki’s actions are unacceptable, they are even more egregious considering his position of trust as an attorney.  The FBI will continue to work closely with our partners to pursue and prosecute individuals who offer victims false promises and take advantage for their own personal benefit.”

If you believe you are a victim of these crimes, please contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI and reference this case.

According to the Indictment, plea agreement, and statements made in court:

The Ponzi Scheme

The Wisnicki Firms specialized in real estate transactional work — namely, assisting clients with purchasing and selling property.

In or about 2007, WISNICKI began a real estate investment business using the Wisnicki Firms.  Existing clients of the Wisnicki Firms (“Investor Clients”) asked WISNICKI to identify potential real estate investment opportunities for them.  The Investor Clients then either transferred funds to WISNICKI or asked him to retain their funds that were already held in the Wisnicki Firms’ Interest Only Lawyers Accounts (“IOLA”) accounts.  WISNICKI then identified real estate investment opportunities for the Investor Clients, and the Wisnicki Firms represented the Investor Clients in the resulting investment transactions.

The Investor Clients began suffering losses in the investments that WISNICKI had arranged.  Rather than notify the Investor Clients of their losses, WISNICKI used funds from the Wisnicki Firms’ clients who did not participate in the real estate investments, which were held in trust in the Firms’ IOLA accounts, and transferred those funds to the Investor Clients to mask their losses.

WISNICKI falsely represented to these other clients that their funds were still held in the Wisnicki Firms’ IOLA accounts, when in fact he had transferred those funds to his Investor Clients.

WISNICKI also used funds from new Investor Clients to cover up losses suffered by prior Investor Clients.  WISNICKI falsely told the new Investor Clients that their funds would be invested in real estate, when in fact he used those funds to repay his prior Investor Clients.

WISNICKI continued the above-described fraud through at least in or about 2022.  WISNICKI owes approximately $18.8 million to certain Investor Clients, which includes approximately $6.3 million to members of his family and approximately $12.5 million to non-family members.  He is also owed approximately $6.7 million by various former clients. 

The Money Laundering, Obstruction, and Perjury Scheme

New York and New Jersey no-fault insurance laws require a driver’s automobile insurance company to pay automobile insurance claims automatically for certain types of motor vehicle accidents, provided that the claim is legitimate and is below a particular monetary threshold (the “No-Fault Laws”).

Pursuant to these requirements, insurance companies will often pay medical service providers directly for the treatment they provide to automobile accident victims without the need to bill the victims themselves.  This process resolves automobile claims without apportioning blame or fault for the accident, thereby avoiding protracted disputes and the costs associated with an extended investigation of the accident.

Beginning in or about 2014, a criminal organization (the “Gulkarov Conspiracy” or the “Gulkarov Conspirators”) began a scheme to exploit the No-Fault Laws.

As part of the scheme, the Gulkarov Conspirators fraudulently owned and controlled more than a dozen medical professional corporations – including medical, acupuncture, and chiropractic practices – by paying licensed medical professionals to use their licenses to incorporate the professional corporations (collectively, the “Gulkarov Clinics”).

The Gulkarov Conspirators further defrauded automobile insurance companies by billing insurance companies for unnecessary, harmful, and excessive medical treatments and lying under oath to insurance company representatives.

The Gulkarov Conspirators laundered the proceeds of the healthcare fraud through, among other ways, the Wisnicki Firms.

In or about 2016 and 2017, one of the Gulkarov Conspirators (“CC-1”), using checks, transferred funds from the Gulkarov Clinics to the Wisnicki Firms.  WISNICKI deposited the checks into one of his IOLA accounts, despite the fact that the Wisnicki Firms did not represent the Gulkarov Clinics and had no attorney-client relationship with the Gulkarov Conspirators.

The Gulkarov Conspirators then arranged for the Wisnicki Firms to use the healthcare fraud proceeds to pay for real estate on behalf of the leaders of the Gulkarov Conspiracy.

In or about April 2021, the Wisnicki Firms were served with a subpoena from a grand jury sitting in the Southern District of New York (the “Subpoena”). 

Among other things, the Subpoena required the Wisnicki Firms to produce documentation concerning the checks from the Gulkarov Clinics.  WISNICKI then communicated with CC-1 and learned that the proceeds of the checks were the proceeds of unlawful activity.

WISNICKI, CC-1, and a second member of the Gulkarov Conspiracy (“CC-2”) agreed to respond to the Subpoena by submitting fabricated documents to the grand jury, lying in communications with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and committing perjury before the grand jury. 

WISNICKI, CC-1, and CC-2 further agreed to re-launder the proceeds of the checks from the Gulkarov Clinics in response to the Subpoena.

At the direction of CC-1, WISNICKI wrote checks, drawn on his IOLA, purporting to return the monies that had been previously paid to his firm.  The checks were made payable to physicians who purported to be owners of the Gulkarov Clinics and to family members of the Gulkarov Conspirators (together, the “Payees”). 

WISNICKI wrote the checks under the false pretense that the Payees were clients of the Wisnicki Firms who had previously paid money to the Wisnicki Firms for legal services.

WISNICKI and others agreed that the checks to the Payees would be deposited, and the funds would then be withdrawn and returned to the Wisnicki Firms.

WISNICKI delivered the checks to CC-1 for this purpose.

Thereafter, on or about April 19, 2021, WISNICKI submitted to the grand jury over a dozen fabricated retainer agreements.

The same day, WISNICKI falsely stated to the U.S. Attorney’s Office that the funds paid to the Wisnicki Firms “were originally supposed to be used for a [sic] retainer fees, which is why the agreements were originally prepared,” but that the clients ultimately “instead asked us to hold the funds to be used for future investments.”  WISNICKI further represented that the Wisnicki Firms decided to return the retainer fees after receiving the Subpoena.

On or about July 6, 2021, WISNICKI was called to appear before the grand jury as custodian of records for the Wisnicki Firms.  WISNICKI falsely testified to the grand jury, among other things, that payments to the Wisnicki Firms had been made for the purpose of opening a “lending platform” that was never completed, and that WISNICKI had not spoken to anyone outside of the Wisnicki Firms about the Subpoena.  

*                *                *

ROBERT WISNICKI, 44, of Forest Hills, New York, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.  As part of his plea agreement, WISNICKI agreed to pay forfeiture of $19,010,548.06 and restitution of $18,800,000.

The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge.

Mr. Williams praised the work of the FBI.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit and the White Plains Division.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mathew Andrews, Timothy Capozzi, and Ryan Allison are in charge of the prosecution.

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