An Erie County judge today ordered a former insurance agent who swindled a West Seneca family out of $106,000 to repay roughly $40,000 -- the money that he hasn't yet spent -- by the end of this week and make restitution payments of $2,000 a month for the next 35 months.
Michael Bifalco, 57, will be monitored for the next five years by the probation department in Suffolk County, where he now lives and works.
Judge Michael L. D'Amico warned him that "you better keep working so you can make those payments," adding, "you're too old to spend the rest of your life in jail" as a probation violator.
The judge also ordered him to perform 500 hours of community service over the next five years.
Bifalco, a former Prudential Insurance Co. agent in both Orchard Park and Niagara Falls, was charged with taking the money in a scam tied to an individual retirement account.
The judge ordered the immediate repayment of $40,000 to Prudential after Thomas D'Agostino, Bifalco's lawyer, said he had yet to spend all of the money.
D'Agostino told the judge Bifalco was in a "severe financial bind" when he foolishly committed "a very serious offense." He said he was always "destined to be caught" because his name was on numerous financial documents linked to the scam.
Bifalco told the judge he is "very, very sorry for what I did." He said he cannot logically explain why he "tried to help myself" with client money, but he insisted he had always intended to repay the funds by the year 2001; he was caught by a company paperwork check of his accounts.
In response, the judge sarcastically told him, "So, you just feel it's an unauthorized loan." He also ordered Bifalco to submit to psychological counseling if Suffolk County probation officers find that is necessary.
John C. Doscher, a financial crimes prosecutor with the Erie County district attorney's office, said from May 1996 to November 1998, Bifalco had convinced a West Seneca family, whom court officials refused to identify, to roll over some IRAs into another investment vehicle.
Bifalco pocketed the money and provided fake paperwork to the family indicating the investment had been made. Bifalco personally paid a $3,500 IRS penalty imposed on the family for withdrawing the IRA money prematurely. Last May 3 he pleaded guilty to two felony counts of fourth-degree grand larceny, Doscher said. The prosecutor told the judge Prudential has made a commitment to fully reimburse Bifalco's victims.