Mastermind of $1.3bn hard-money lending scam sentenced to 25 years

by Ryan Smith23 Oct 2019

The former CEO of an organization linked to a $1.3 billion hard-money lending scam has been sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Robert Shapiro, 62, is the former CEO of the Woodbridge Group of Companies. Prosecutors alleged that the Woodbridge Group, an unregistered group of investment companies, scammed more than 8,400 investors who thought they were investing in a hard-money lender. Woodbridge advertised its primary business as issuing hard-money loans to commercial property owners.

In reality, however, Woodbridge was a massive Ponzi scheme, using money from newer investors to pay off older investors. Shapiro personally netted at least $36 million from the scam, according to prosecutors.

“Shapiro’s proft was not coincidental, but rather by design,” assistant US attorneys Roger Cruz and Lisa Miller wrote in a court filing. “The entire point of the complex conspiracy that blossomed at Woodbridge was to enrich Shapiro, his family members, and his co-conspirators at the expense of investors and the Internal Revenue Service.”

Shapiro pleaded guilty last month to mail and wire fraud and tax evasion. His lawyers argued that Shapiro deserved a lenient sentence because he admitted his wrongdoing and assisted authorities as they investigated the six-year-long scam, according to an Orlando Sentinel report. However, US District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga rejected that argument, citing the stories of more than a half-dozen of Shapiro’s victims, who testified about their financial losses.

Shapiro will forfeit about $100 million in assets, including paintings by artists including Chagall, Picasso and Renoir, according to the Sentinel.