KIYC: Tristate real estate investors become victims of Ponzi scheme
Dozens of tristate area investors say they were victims of fraud, losing six figures apiece in what they thought was a legitimate real estate deal but now believe was a Ponzi scheme, a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds.
“I was happy to be a part of something, especially something this big,” says Stanley Acosta, a Queens resident who invested $150,000 in cash.
The money was supposed to be used to flip a property in Paterson, New Jersey. But almost as soon as he signed the paperwork, Acosta said something felt wrong.
“One of the biggest flags for me was he didn't count the cash,” Acosta says. “We've given you $150,000 in cash. You're going to want to make sure that every dollar is there."
The developer was Cesar Pina, a social media influencer who advertises real estate seminars. Acosta's contract promised that in return for his $150,000 investments, he’d get $45,000 in interest – a 30% return - in just five months. Nearly a year later, he says he has yet to receive any money and that Pina has stopped returning calls.
Acosta isn’t alone. Over a dozen lawsuits have been filed by people who say they invested with Pina and never got the money promised. The lawsuits total $10 million with more being filed each week.
Kane In Your Corner reviewed property records and found that in some cases, Pina sold investments in properties the records show he never owned or had already sold.
"For the past year and a half or more, it's just been taking money in from people and there's been no likelihood of people getting their money back,” says Xander Schachtel, a lawyer who represents more than half a dozen plaintiffs.
Some of the lawsuits also mention RaaShaun Casey, a radio personality who goes by the name DJ Envy. Casey often appeared with Pina at real estate seminars, but his attorney, Massimo D’Angelo, insists he’s a victim, too.
“DJ Envy also gave $500,000 as an investment, which he has not received back yet,” D’Angelo says.
Pina’s attorney, Steven Griegel, declined to be interviewed. In a letter to the court, he complains that some irate investors have resorted to making threats against his client. He writes: “My clients need time to, first, protect their family from threats of death, rape and physical harm. After that… they need to make serious and complex decisions as to how to move forward, and what attorney or attorneys to move forward with.”
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission advises that before anyone invests in a business deal, they should have an attorney review the contract. The SEC also advises being wary of and beware of anyone guaranteeing high profits, especially with little to no risk.