Fla. man gets 20 years in investment fraud

A federal judge in New Jersey scolded a Florida man for his lavish lifestyle funded by stolen millions before sentencing him Tuesday to 20 years in federal prison in an investment fraud scheme.

Nevin Shapiro, once known locally for his sports philanthropy, was sentenced in a Newark courtroom after previously pleading guilty to charges related to running a multistate Ponzi scheme that prosecutors say left more than 60 investors in Florida, Indiana and New Jersey with nearly $100 million in losses.

U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton gave Shapiro a longer sentence than prosecutors asked for on the securities fraud and money laundering counts he admitted to in a plea agreement in September. She also ordered him to pay more than $82 million in restitution to his victims.

"What was clear was you were living the high life, and I'm sure it was really good when it was good," Wigenton told Shapiro. "I'm sure that when you're sitting behind bars, you'll ask yourself 'was it all worth it?'"

Handcuffed and in prison scrubs, the 42-year-old Miami Beach resident said he felt deep remorse for the lives he had ruined, including his own.

"I'm really devastated for my mom and dad, but I got to tell you, my greatest remorse is for the victims who were impacted by my conduct," Shapiro said. "Sometimes we are faced with situations where desperation weighs out over humiliation, and I really tried to right the wrongs, but I wasn't able to."

His attorney, in arguing for a lighter sentence, said Shapiro was gripped by a gambling addiction that drove him to overextend a once-legitimate business. Attorney Maria Elena Perez argued that Shapiro has cooperated with bankruptcy and government officials to try and recover as much money as possible for his victims.

Prosecutors say Shapiro used a Florida-based company called Capitol Investments USA Inc. over a four year period to raise nearly $900 million from investors who thought they were buying into a wholesale grocery distribution business.

Charges filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission claim Shapiro promised investors risk-free annual returns as high as 26 percent by persuading them to invest in a "grocery diversion" enterprise — a practice of buying low-cost groceries in one region of the country and reselling them in higher-priced markets.

Shapiro allegedly siphoned at least $35 million of the proceeds for personal use, including $23 million for salaries and commissions for himself, $5 million for a Miami Beach mansion and $400,000 for courtside Miami Heat basketball tickets, $4,700 per month to lease a luxury model Mercedes-Benz and $1.5 million for a yacht on the Riviera. He also spent lavishly on his high-stakes gambling habit, and a pair of diamond-studded handcuffs given to an unnamed prominent athlete, according to court documents.

Shapiro also was generous with what prosecutors say was his investors' money, donating to athletic groups and charities and getting a student-athlete lounge named after him at the University of Miami by donating $150,000. Shapiro's name was removed from the lounge in 2008 after the school said he did not follow his pledged donation-payment plan.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob Elberg read excerpts of a letter from one victim Tuesday, who said Shapiro had ruined him financially, forced him and his family to move out of their home when it was foreclosed on, and left him so destitute he could only afford to buy his 13-year-old daughter a bottle of face wash for her birthday.