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Posted Wednesday, December 31, 2008
$2 Million Bail for Man Accused of Defrauding Fellow
By BENJAMIN WEISER
A man accused of orchestrating a Ponzi scheme that lost fellow worshipers
at a church in Upper Manhattan more than $600,000 was granted $2 million bail on
Tuesday despite the objections of prosecutors who voiced concern that he might
flee the country.
A federal magistrate judge in Manhattan also ruled that the man, Bryant
Rodriguez, 44, would have to post $750,000 in cash or property and turn in his
passport before he would be released and would be subject to electronic
|UNITED STATES POSTAL INSPECTION SERVICE
|Prosecutor argued Bryant Rodriguez was a flight risk.
Prosecutors told Judge Frank Maas of Federal District Court that they wanted Mr.
Rodriguez held because he posed a flight risk and was also a potential danger to
Sarah Y. Lai, a prosecutor, told the judge that an examination of bank records
showed that Mr. Rodriguez had been wiring money to the Dominican Republic. “He’s
obviously secreting resources away,” Ms. Lai said.
Mr. Rodriguez, according to the authorities, insinuated himself into El Camino
Church, a small Christian Evangelical congregation at Audubon Avenue and 172nd
Street in Washington Heights, after showing up for baptism classes last year and
began enticing other churchgoers to entrust their money with him.
He promised returns of 30 percent every two weeks, and did provide payments to
initial investors, at least for a while, according to a criminal complaint by an
agent of the United States Postal Inspection Service. Those investors then
recruited other investors, the complaint said.
Mr. Rodriguez claimed that he represented an electronics firm that did business
with major retailers and wanted a “blessing for a blessing” by giving Jews and
Christians the opportunity to invest in his company, the complaint says.
Retailers have told the authorities they had no contract with Mr. Rodriguez or
any firm he ran, the complaint says.
At least three dozen people invested with him, giving him about $1.1 million but
getting back only about $450,000, the complaint said.
“We believe there are more victims in the scheme,” Ms. Lai told the judge. “We
also believe that he may be perpetrating the same scheme in other churches.”
Mr. Rodriguez has been charged with one count of mail fraud. He also has a
previous felony conviction for impersonating a federal immigration officer,
according to court documents.
His lawyer, Paul J. McAllister, said after the hearing that Mr. Rodriguez
“vehemently maintains his innocence.”
In court, Mr. McAllister disputed the government’s contentions, and said his
client enjoyed strong support from pastors and members of other churches.
The courtroom was packed, with Mr. McAllister telling the judge that about 80
people were there on his client’s behalf.
After the hearing, a number of people said they believed that Mr. Rodriguez was
being unfairly prosecuted. One woman said that she gave him money last year and
had already been paid back more than she had invested.
Claims by people that they had successfully invested with Mr. Rodriguez could
not be immediately authenticated, and it was unclear whether officials believed
such returns were merely part of a broader fraud. In a Ponzi scheme, early
investors are usually paid from money collected from later investors.
After the hearing, Mr. McAllister spoke to dozens of people, encouraging them to
help raise money toward the $750,000 that must be posted before Mr. Rodriguez
can be released. “If you make the goal, he’s out,” Mr. McAllister told the
Mr. McAllister, reached by phone Monday night, said that he believed his client
was still in jail.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times,
New York Region, of Wednesday, December 31, 2008.
SEC halts $23 million Massive Ponzi scheme and affinity targeting
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