SCOTRUN, Pa. — Federal prosecutors say they have cracked one of the largest Ponzi schemes since the arrest of Bernard Madoff a decade ago.
Authorities say a main branch office of this illegal operation was in Monroe County.
Perry Santillo of Rochester, New York, has pleaded guilty to charges he bilked investors out of more than $70 million over the past 10 years.
According to court papers, Santillo’s associates set up shop in the Poconos and used some of the investors’ money to support a lavish lifestyle.
feds: Ponzi scheme operated in Monroe county
Federal prosecutors say a now-empty building in Scotrun housed an outpost for Perry Santillo’s Ponzi scheme.
In the past 10 years, federal prosecutors say, Santillo’s operation in Monroe County alone bilked $3 million from 30 victims, including Jeff and Judy Hoffert of Bethlehem.
“We lost over $62,000,” said Judy Hoffert. “Most of what we saved was gone.”
Judy and Jeff Hoffert are now nearly broke. Jeff worked for Bethlehem Steel and lost most of his pension when the company shut down. Three years ago, Jeff had a heart attack and was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“He’s trying to work, and he’s not in good shape. I’m trying to work and I need two knee replacements,” Judy said.
Federal prosecutors say Santillo’s operation was headquartered in Rochester, New York. Court papers indicate Santillo took money from investors and
- built a wardrobe worth more than $1 million,
- spent $150,000 for a Las Vegas birthday party in 2017,
- used another $10,000 to commission a rap song titled “King Perry.”
According to court papers, Santillo took in about $155 million over a decade, losing or spending more than $70 million.
“Doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s theft. It’s theft motivated by nothing more than greed,” said U.S. Attorney David Freed.
Federal prosecutors say the Ponzi scheme collapsed in late 2017 and forced the offices in Scotrun to shut its doors.
A month later, Judy Hoffert called the office to see when she could start receiving her retirement dividends.
“The phone number was not working, and that was not good.”
For a decade, the office was the site of businesses with names including. Advice and Life Group, Poconos Investments, First American Securities, and Financial Planners Group of America.
Now, the building sits empty along with the retirement account of Jeff and Judy Hoffert.
“We’re doing flea markets on the side to supplement our income,” Judy said.
This is not the retirement Judy Hoffert envisioned — selling possessions to pay bills.
She never met Perry Santillo, but she says he and those who worked for him in Scotrun stole her retirement.
“The only thing that’s ever going to cure this type of behavior that these men exhibited, all of them, is if you can find a cure for greed.”
Hoffert hopes to get some of her money back through a lawsuit against Santillo’s bank and through restitution
As for man referred in the rap song as “King Perry,” he is scheduled to be sentenced in March and faces up to five years in federal prison and millions of dollars in fines.