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Downtown Pittsburgh man accused of defrauding banks, individuals of millions

Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, 9:20 p.m.
 

Joseph Graziano Jr. flaunted his wealth.

He flashed cash and frequented VIP sections in casinos, friends said. He rented a swanky Squirrel Hill condo for a year, paying cash upfront, a former landlord said. He bragged on a blog that he paid cash for his first Lamborghini and a Bentley.

“I loved it. It was empowering,” Graziano, 28, of Downtown wrote at blackcardstatus.com. “... I walked out with the Lamborghini, and the title. I owned it. No leinholder (sic), it was a rush!”

It was a lie, according to investigators.

In an indictment, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Graziano embezzled nearly $2.5 million from Bank of New York Mellon Corp. while working there; took out bank loans and offered expensive cars he no longer owned as collateral; and ripped off eBay customers by accepting thousands of dollars for electronics and sending buyers empty boxes.

Graziano pleaded not guilty on Oct. 22 to 14 counts of bank fraud, bank embezzlement and mail fraud. The crimes carry a potential prison sentence of 380 years and an $11 million fine.

Graziano could not be reached. A man who answered his cellphone hung up.

Free on an unsecured $25,000 bond, he remains in Western Pennsylvania, said his attorney, Martin Dietz, who would not comment. Graziano's family declined to comment.

But the indictment, former friends and associates, and what remains of Graziano's social media footprint document the derailment of an extravagant life.

“I've experienced more at my age than most people will in their entire lifetime,” Graziano blogged in July.

Remaking his image

Graziano, the son of an insurance broker, lived in the small town of Hawley, near Scranton, before enrolling at the University of Pittsburgh. He graduated in 2008 with a bachelor's degree in economics, Pitt spokesman Adam Reger said.

He apparently was an unremarkable student: Reger said department officials “didn't come up with anyone who remembers this student.”

Soon after graduating, however, he landed the BNY Mellon job and began remaking his image.

He posted videos of himself driving his Lamborghini, a Gallardo Superleggera. With his personalized license plate reading BNKRUPT, he drove the car to events organized by Pittsburgh Cars and Coffee, a group of rare- and expensive-car enthusiasts. At a recent gathering in Cranberry, members declined to comment.

He showed off his second Lamborghini — a 2010 Murcielago valued at $495,000, according to investigators — at black-tie events where people recalled his charm and confidence, posing for photos. Graziano appeared in at least four photos in 2011 and 2012 in the Tribune-Review's Fanfare section, which documents society events.

Though he worked as a corporate trust administrator at BNY Mellon, on his blog he styled himself a successful young entrepreneur.

“Entrepreneurship is in my DNA,” he wrote. “I live for innovation and the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources.”

In reality, authorities said, he was defrauding banks and people of millions.

In 2008, Dollar Bank extended him a loan to buy his Downtown condominium, federal agents said. To do so, Graziano falsified bank statements to show he had $115,320.44 in Philadelphia Federal Credit Union, investigators said. His actual balance was less than $9.

Public records show he purchased the condo at 151 Fort Pitt Blvd. for $211,000.

Graziano began embezzling from BNY Mellon in 2009, authorities said. Over three years, he orchestrated 27 fraudulent wire transfers to siphon $2,441,294.35 from the bank's accounts into his own, according to the indictment.

BNY Mellon officials declined to comment.

Lifestyle ‘escalated'

Flush with cash, Graziano lived the life of a high roller, friends said. He bragged about his Rolex watches and expensive cars. Videos of high-speed drives in his Lamborghini remain online.

He dated a series of attractive girlfriends and boasted of mob connections, friends said.

“The cars, the whole lifestyle — it just escalated. Nobody wants to be associated with him anymore,” said one former friend, who did not want to be named because she fears for her safety.

He obtained fraudulent loans, authorities said, conning $226,649.81 from First Niagara Bank and $130,000 from First Commonwealth Bank. In many cases, he used cars he had sold as collateral.

When he sought a $250,000 loan from AmeriServ Financial Bank last year, a loan officer asked to inspect his Lamborghini, according to the indictment. Graziano, who traded the car for a Bentley in 2011, said the vehicle was in storage in New York, investigators said.

Graziano claimed in loan documents to earn $21,000 a month by running a hedge fund business called Profinity. Authorities contend Profinity was a front and that he reported income of just $7,104 on tax returns.

The personal loans paid gambling debts, said investigators and friends. A Rivers Casino employee described Graziano as a “good customer,” meaning he spent a lot of money.

Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board officials said they don't comment on earnings and losses for individual players.

David Airey, a graphic designer in Northern Ireland, said Graziano hired him to produce a logo for Profinity; a testimony from Graziano praising that work remains on Airey's webpage. Airey said he was surprised to hear of Graziano's indictment.

“He paid me on time and was a good client to deal with,” Airey told the Trib in an email.

‘Secrets, shortcuts'

On his blog, Graziano wrote about when to use cash or credit on large purchases and how to pick up women at nightclubs. Among his tips: Never show your socks.

“You heard me, smelly,” he wrote. “Buy a pair of low profile socks and throw them on under your loafers or dress shoes. It will show just the right amount of skin and draw attention to your beautiful Italian leather shoes.”

American Express Co. sued Graziano in September, claiming the blog name — blackcardstatus — is a trademark infringement.

Black Card is slang for the company's Centurion Card, which American Express described as “the most prestigious and difficult-to-obtain American Express card (that is) available only to a tiny percentage of American Express cardholders (and) has become a symbol of unique status, extreme luxury, and unparalleled financial success.”

Graziano has not responded to the lawsuit.

“I'm going to tell you where I messed up, so you don't make those same mistakes,” Graziano wrote. “I'm going to tell you secrets and shortcuts I've came across that have saved me time, money, and much more. ... Just know that you are getting the real deal. Word for word, picture for picture, tweet for tweet.”

Graziano deleted the Twitter account to which the page linked.

Chris Togneri is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com. Staff writer Brian Bowling contributed to this report.

 

 

 
 


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