Washington, DC - A three-count criminal indictment was unsealed Wednesday in federal court in the Eastern District of New York charging Roberto Gustavo Cortes Ripalda, 54, of Madrid, Spain; Fernando Haberer Bergson, 48, of Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Ernesto Heraclito Weisson Pazmino, 53, of Miami, Florida, with conspiring to defraud investors and financial institutions as part of an international fraud scheme stretching through the United States, South America, and Europe. The defendants are each charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Federal agents arrested Weisson in Miami yesterday. Cortes and Haberer were also arrested yesterday in Spain and Argentina, respectively.
According to the indictment, Cortes and Weisson founded Biscayne Capital, a financial services company, in 2005. Between approximately 2013 and 2018, Cortes, Haberer, and Weisson, together with others, orchestrated a scheme to defraud Biscayne Capital clients and financial institutions through a series of material misrepresentations and omissions about, among other things, how Biscayne Capital client funds would be used. The defendants and their co-conspirators used the funds they fraudulently obtained from clients and financial institutions to pay other investors, cover Biscayne Capital expenses, and pay themselves millions of dollars.
The indictment further alleges the defendants and their co-conspirators falsely told some Biscayne Capital clients that the clients’ investments in certain private investment products (referred to in the indictment as “Proprietary Products”) would be used to finance the development of real estate projects, when in fact, the defendants and their co-conspirators used the clients’ investments to pay other Biscayne Capital clients. The indictment also alleges the defendants and their co-conspirators invested certain clients’ money in Proprietary Products without those clients’ knowledge, and then provided those clients with fraudulent account statements that showed fake investments. The defendants and others also conspired to fraudulently induce financial institutions to extend short-term credit to help further the scheme. Haberer then generated fake letters of authorization to repay the banks out of Biscayne Capital clients’ accounts without those clients’ authorization.
By September 2018, the alleged scheme collapsed, and Biscayne Capital went into liquidation, causing more than $155 million in losses to Biscayne Capital clients.
Weisson had an initial court appearance yesterday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Chris M. McAliley of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. If convicted of all counts, each defendant faces a maximum penalty of 70 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis of the Eastern District of New York; Acting Special Agent in Charge Darrell J. Waldon of the IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Washington Field Office; Special Agent in Charge Joleen D. Simpson of the IRS-CI Boston Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Raymond Villanueva of the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington Field Office made the announcement.
The IRS-CI Global Illicit Financial Team and HSI are investigating the case.
Trial Attorneys Randall Warden and Shaunik R. Panse of the Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS); Trial Attorney John (Fritz) Scanlon of the Justice Department’s Fraud Section; and Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Gopstein and Benjamin Weintraub of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York are prosecuting the case.
The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance in this case.
MLARS’s Bank Integrity Unit investigates and prosecutes banks and other financial institutions, including their officers, managers, and employees, whose actions threaten the integrity of the individual institution or the wider financial system.