U.S. Department of Justice

United States Attorney
Eastern District of New York

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Jury Finds Staten Island, N.Y., Real Estate Developer Guilty of Operating a Multi-Million Dollar Ponzi Scheme

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Following two weeks of trial, a federal jury in Brooklyn, N.Y., today returned guilty verdicts against Joseph Mazella, the founder and president of the Great Atlantic Group Inc., a Staten-Island based real estate and financial consulting company, on charges of securities fraud, wire fraud and money laundering.  These charges arose out of the defendant’s operation of a Ponzi scheme that led to more than $14 million in losses.  When sentenced by U.S. District Judge Carol B. Amon, the defendant faces a maximum sentence of 25 years’ in prison on the most serious charge.
The verdicts were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
The evidence at trial proved that Mazella solicited money from prospective investors by telling them that he would invest their money in real estate projects, including projects in Trenton, N.J., a warehouse in Utica, N.Y., and a golf course in Greene County, N.Y.  Mazella told his victims that their money would be safe and that he would pay them a fixed rate of return.  Mazella encouraged several investors, typically senior citizens, to apply for reverse mortgages on their residences and to invest the proceeds with him.  From approximately January 2007 until approximately December 2010, investors gave Mazella more than $14 million.  By January 2007, though, the evidence showed that Mazella was operating Great Atlantic as a Ponzi scheme in which he paid returns to investors from existing investors’ deposits or money paid by new investors.  Mazella also used investors’ money to pay his personal expenses, including payments for a Porsche, a mortgage on his personal residence and family expenses.

“The evidence at trial showed that the defendant callously and systematically defrauded his victims of their lives’ savings.  Mazella’s victims, many of whom are senior citizens on a fixed income, turned to him to ensure their security in their golden years.  Instead, their security was raided to fund his fraud, and they will feel the impact of Mazella’s crimes for the rest of their lives,” said U.S. Attorney Lynch. 

Ms. Lynch extended her grateful appreciation to the FBI, which led the government’s criminal investigation.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Nowak, Winston Paes and Mary M. Dickman.

This case was brought in coordination with President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  President Obama established the interagency Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.  The Task Force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources.  The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.

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