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Florida man pleads guilty in Pittsburgh federal court to scam netting $3.9 million

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 11:27 p.m.
 

The wealthy family in Nigeria in need of $500 is a hoax.

Your winning lottery ticket in Johannesburg, South Africa, doesn't exist.

And you can't turn your computer into an ATM to “make cash fast.”

“We've known for years there's no secret to making a quick buck, unless it's a fraudster preying on the ignorant,” said Ted Harrington, a Chicago attorney who specializes in representing victims of fraud, including Ponzi schemes. “Some things are too good to be true and too easy to be legal.”

Since 2010, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission said it has brought more than 100 enforcement actions against more than 200 individuals and 250 entities for carrying out such scams.

Among those included in the agency's 2013 records is Fotios Geivelis, 34, of Fort Myers, Fla., who pleaded guilty on Tuesday in Pittsburgh federal court to stealing more than $3.9 million from people seeking loans for humanitarian and job-creating projects.

Geivelis set up Worldwide Funding III Ltd. to con more than three dozen people into believing that for each investment of $60,000 or $90,000, he would obtain an overseas loan of 10 million euros — the equivalent of almost $14 million — according to federal prosecutors and the SEC.

His attorney could not be reached.

Geivelis told the investors they wouldn't be personally liable for paying off the loans.

Instead, the loans would pay for their projects while funding an international “prime bank trading program” that would generate a return of 14 percent per week and pay off the loan. At least one of the investors wired money from a First National Bank of Pennsylvania account in Pittsburgh, according to a federal grand jury indictment.

Court documents don't identify the Pittsburgh-area victim. Prosecutors declined to discuss details of the case.

The money Geivelis received didn't go far. He pocketed about 45 percent of it, squandering it on hotels, casinos, restaurants, strip clubs, automobiles, clothing and jewelry, while telling investors that their deals were still in the works, authorities said.

“I have a lot of sympathy for the victims in these cases,” said Joseph C. Peiffer, a New Orleans attorney whose practice includes representing individuals and corporations harmed by investment bankers.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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