Staten Island Businessman Arrested on Fraud Charges for Operating Multi-Million-Dollar Ponzi Scheme

A Staten Island man was arrested earlier this morning on charges arising out of his alleged operation of a $12 million Ponzi scheme from 2007 to 2010. Joseph Mazella, the founder and president of the Great Atlantic Group, Inc., a Staten Island-based real estate and financial consulting company, was charged with securities fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering in a federal indictment that was unsealed earlier today in federal court in Brooklyn. The case has been assigned to Chief United States District Court Judge Carol B. Amon. The defendant is scheduled to be arraigned later today before United States Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom at the United States Courthouse, 225 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, New York. The charges were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Janice K. Fedarcyk, Assistant Director in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office.

As alleged in the indictment, Mazella solicited investments in Third Millennium Enterprises, Inc. and 150 West State Street Corp., both of which were associated with the Great Atlantic Group that supposedly invested in real estate projects and provided private mortgages. Mazella told prospective investors that he would invest their money in real estate projects, including projects in Trenton, New Jersey, a warehouse in Utica, New York, and a golf course development project. From approximately January 2007 until approximately December 2010, investors contributed a total of nearly $12 million to Third Millennium and 150 West State Street. As of December 2010, the combined closing balance of the bank accounts associated with the two companies was less than $15,000.

According to the indictment, Mazella described the investments as an opportunity to receive the returns of mutual funds and stocks, without any significant loss of liquidity, and at a fixed rate during the entire time period of investment. Solicitation materials distributed by Mazella characterized the investments as “geared toward individuals who are interested in earning more than traditional bank savings and CD rates but without the risk of the stock market.” Some investors were encouraged to obtain mortgages on their homes and to invest the mortgage proceeds with Third Millennium or 150 West State Street, and other investors, typically senior citizens, were encouraged to apply for reverse mortgages on their residences and to invest the proceeds with the two companies.

The indictment charges that, by as early as January 2007, Mazella had virtually stopped investing in real estate projects, and instead operated Third Millennium and 150 West State Street as a Ponzi scheme, in which he paid returns to investors from existing investors’ deposits or money paid by new investors. Many of the properties in which the companies held any mortgage or ownership interest were abandoned and in various states of disrepair, and the property taxes owed on several of those properties had fallen into arrears. Mazella also allegedly used investors’ money to pay his personal expenses, including payments for a Porsche, a mortgage on his personal residence, and family expenses.

“Perhaps the most egregious aspect of this case is that the defendant allegedly encouraged victims—some, senior citizens—to obtain mortgages on their homes and to invest the proceeds in what the indictment charges was nothing more than a Ponzi scheme,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “We will aggressively investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate these crimes.” Ms. Lynch thanked the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (OIG), for their assistance.

FBI Assistant Director in Charge Fedarcyk stated, “Mazella lured investors with the promise of steady rates of return without market risk. In fact, because the investment scheme allegedly was an investment scam, the only one guaranteed to get rich quick was Mazella himself. The FBI is committed to protecting the investing public.”

If convicted, Mazella faces a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment for each count of securities fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys John P. Nowak and Evan Weitz.

The FBI has established a telephone hotline for victim investors in Third Millennium Enterprises and 150 West State Street Corp. The number is 212/384-1300.

The Defendant:
Age: 52