An Erie County businessman accused of running a Ponzi scheme that targeted Catholic investors in Rochester and several other dioceses pleaded guilty June 8 to felony charges of mail and tax fraud in U.S. District Court in Buffalo.
According to the plea agreement, Richard S. Piccoli, 82, could face 19 to 24 years in prison when he is sentenced at 2 p.m. Oct. 21. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gretchen Wylegala noted that defense attorneys in the case have reserved the right to ask for a sentence outside that range and that U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny would make the final determination.
Piccoli’s attorney could not be reached for comment June 10.
Piccoli also would be required to pay restitution of as much as $25 million to the victims, according to the plea agreement. In an effort to pay restitution, he has agreed to forfeit and sell property in Erie and Cattaraugus counties and in Florida.
“There’s certainly far less than that ($25 million) available in the assets (of Piccoli’s) that have been identified,” Wylegala remarked.
The federal Securities and Exchange Commission is working to determine how much restitution Piccoli owes. Wylegala said she hoped to have the amount prior to sentencing, but acknowledged that it may not be possible.
“It’s an enormous job,” Wylegala said of determining how much victims are owed, noting that the SEC is looking to hire additional staff to help with the work.
According to court documents, Piccoli and his company, Gen-See Capital Corp., bilked investors out of millions of dollars since 1980 by claiming to invest in “seasoned” mortgages, even though no mortgage investments were made.
Piccoli heavily marketed his business to the Catholic community and to senior citizens, using current investors to provide references for prospective investors. Gen-See Capital Corp. also advertised in parish bulletins and in several Catholic newspapers in New York — including the Catholic Courier — and in other states, including Alaska.
Since 2002, Piccoli took in more than $31 million and paid out more than $28 million to some investors who opted to receive payments of interest or interest and principal, court documents show. Those receiving payments were not told that the only source of funds for payments was more recent investments.