9,000 duped in Ponzi scheme and some victims could be from our area

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Miami, FL (WTVY)-- A federal judge in Miami sentenced a man to 25 years Tuesday after his guilty plea to bilking unsuspecting investors out of $1.3 billion.

61-year old Robert Shapiro spearheaded and concealed an enormous Ponzi scheme through his business, Woodbridge, according to prosecutors.

They claim throughout the conspiracy, Woodbridge’s main business model was to solicit money from investors and, in exchange, issue those investors promissory notes reflecting purported loans that paid high monthly interest rates.

Woodbridge falsely claimed that the investments were tied to real property owned by third parties and that those third parties would be making the interest payments to Woodbridge and its investors; it was portrayed as an investment in a hard-money lending business, the indictment claims.

Prosecutors say the company used high pressure sales tactics, and claimed the investments were low-risk, safe, and conservative.

At least five states issued cease and desist orders against one or more of the Woodbridge companies based on their unregistered sale of securities. Shapiro and two alleged co-conspirators continued to sell Woodbridge investments to residents of those states, and engaged in deceptive conduct, per court documents.

Prosecutors also claim that, in 2017, Shapiro decided to file bankrupty and, without disclosing that information to investors, continued to collect additional money from them.

They say, from 2012-2017, Shapiro and Woodbridge bilked 9,000 investors, some of them in the Wiregrass area.

A Malone, Florida man said he has been duped out of $600,000, almost all his life savings. He told WTVY he invested through a well-known Dothan businessman who acted at Woodbridge's agent.

The man who lost his savings asked that his name not be used for this story on the advice of his attorneys.

Neither that Dothan agent nor others who represented Woodbridge have been charged though federal investigators won't rule out additional investigation or arrests.

In his plea deal, Shapiro and his wife agreed to forfeit certain assets, many of which were seized during a search executed by federal agents at their California home. 

These items include artworks by Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Marc Chagall, and Pierre-August Renoir; a collection of 603 bottles of wine; a 1969 Mercury convertible; luxury jewelry, including a pair of 14-karat, white gold earrings.

Also seized were two black diamonds (61.81 carats), two grey diamonds (23.92 carats), two rose-cut diamonds, and 266 round diamonds; a platinum ring with an oval-cut ruby (10.91 carats), two trapezoid diamonds and 70 round-cut diamonds; a platinum ring with certified Colombia emerald-cut emerald (9.54 carats), trapezoid-cut diamonds, and 166 round-cut diamonds.

Robert Shapiro sentenced to 25 years is not related to attorney Robert Shapiro, who became famous as part of O.J. Simpson “dream” defense team.