In last year’s hit movie “The Wolf of Wall Street,” actor Leonardo DiCaprio played an unscrupulous stockbroker who made money beyond his wildest dreams by running an illegal “pump-and-dump” securities fraud scheme that victimized small investors all over America.
On a much smaller scale, two Chautauqua County residents are accused of making millions of dollars running a similar scheme based in the pretty and usually sedate lakefront village of Lakewood by using websites like bestdamnpennystocks.com.
Charges unsealed in federal court earlier this week accuse Eric Cusimano and Jamie Boye of duping thousands of investors into buying nearly worthless penny stocks at inflated prices. Cusimano and Boye are charged with felony securities fraud. Those two men and Cusimano’s wife, Jessica, are accused of felony money-laundering.
The Buffalo News was unable to reach any of the defendants Friday, and court officials said the names of their attorneys have not yet been made public.
The defendants used consulting companies, newsletters and websites called bestdamnpennystocks.com and trypennystocks.com to put out misleading information that caused investors to buy stocks at highly inflated prices, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango and Michael K. Klimczak, a criminal investigator with the Internal Revenue Service.
Once the prices were inflated, the stocks were sold, netting huge profits for people who were in on the scheme, the feds charged.
At least 60,000 investors subscribed to Eric Cusimano’s websites, investigators charged, alleging that he received at least $4.26 million to “tout” 26 penny stocks. Boye is accused of receiving at least $980,000 to tout 15 penny stocks.
Eric and Jessica Cusimano were arrested earlier this week while visiting Panama. Both are expected to appear in Buffalo’s federal court next week before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr., court officials said.
Boye’s specific whereabouts were unknown Friday, but a law enforcement official said he is believed to be already in custody in connection with a matter unrelated to the securities fraud case.
Companies that issued stock would pay the defendants thousand of dollars to publish information touting the stocks to investors. The venture, according to court papers, was profitable for Boye and the Cusimanos.
Between 2009 and 2012, Eric Cusimano deposited more than $6 million in one of his bank accounts, and between 2008 and 2012, Boye deposited nearly $1.4 million in another account, federal agents charged,
During the summer of 2011, the Cusimanos – who also had an address in Texas – spent more than $48,000 on a pontoon boat that they purchased from a business in Chautauqua County, agents charged.
“At the time Cusimano wrote the check” for the boat, “his sole source of income was the pump-and-dump fraud scheme,” Klimczak said in a court statement. The agent said the boat was registered in the name of Jessica Cusimano, who listed a rented lakeside cabin as her address.
Boye wrote a check for more than $49,000 to buy a Cadillac Escalade from a Buffalo-area car dealer in 2009, the agent said.
A cooperating witness told authorities that Eric Cusimano and Boye initially called their business “stock speculating” but later called it “pump-and-dump” during discussions with the witness.
“A pump-and-dump stock fraud scheme is designed to fraudulently inflate the prices of publicly traded stocks of companies, generally stocks of companies with low stock prices (known as penny stocks) through a variety of fraudulent and misleading statements and practices that are designed to deceive investors,” the IRS investigator said in court papers.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” was based on the true story of stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who went to prison for engineering a massive pump-and-dump scheme that made him hundreds of millions of dollars.
Belfort ran a Long Island brokerage firm called Stratton Oakmont and hired hundreds of people in the 1980s and 1990s.
After his arrest in 1998, he was forced to close his business, was sentenced to 22 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $100 million back to investors. Now out of prison, he is a motivational speaker and author.
The Internet and the increasing use of social networking sites have made it easier for fraud artists to carry out pump-and-dump schemes, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
“Pump-and-dump schemes often occur on the Internet, where it is common to see messages posted that urge readers to buy a stock quickly or to sell before the price goes down, or a telemarketer will call using the same sort of pitch. Often the promoters will claim to have ‘inside’ information about an impending development,” the agency warns on its website.
Cusimano is 32. Home addresses for the three defendants and the ages of Boye and Jessica Cusimano were not available Friday.