“Shadow” CEO of NJ developer pleads guilty to Ponzi scheme

Thomas Salzano defrauded investors of $658M

“Shadow” CEO of NJ Developer Pleads Guilty to Ponzi Scheme
(Getty, justice.gov)

One of the top figures at National Realty Investment Advisors pleaded guilty to orchestrating a colossal Ponzi scene.

Thomas Salzano admitted his role in a scheme that defrauded more than 2,000 investors out of $658 million, the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of New Jersey announced Tuesday. The release referred to the 65-year-old as a “shadow” chief executive officer of NRIA, which declared bankruptcy two years ago under a cloud of questions about its operations.

Salzano pleaded guilty to securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the United States. He admitted to making misrepresentations to investors while leading NRIA behind the scenes and misappropriating millions of dollars for his own benefit.

Salzano and his co-conspirators defrauded investors of NRIA Partners Portfolio Fund I LLC in a scheme that began in February 2018, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The deceptions included NRIA’s financial position, how investor money was used, Salzano’s role and his history of fraud at a large telecommunications company.

As part of the scheme, Salzano led a marketing campaign across the nation, taking out billboards and advertising on the radio and television. Marketing materials included falsified documents portraying NRIA as a solvent profit generator, when it actually operated as a Ponzi scheme.

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Salzano also conspired to prevent the IRS from collecting millions in outstanding taxes, going as far as opening bank accounts in the names of phony entities.

Salzano’s sentencing is set for Aug. 6, but that is expected to be a mere formality; as part of his plea deal, Salzano agreed to a prison sentence between 8 and 12 years, an $8.5 million fine and paying a $507 million restitution to his victims.

NRIA filed for Chapter 11 protection two years ago, listing assets worth between $50 million and $100 million and liabilities between $500 million and $1 billion. The company was founded in 2006 as a fix-and-flip firm, centered on condominium, townhome and multifamily development and investment.

The FBI arrested Salzano in March 2021 after a standoff outside his New Jersey home. At the time, he was charged with faking a $25 million loan guarantee while trying to defraud a California woman out of $150,000, according to Regulatory Compliant Watch.

Among those charged alongside Salzano in October 2022 were Rey Grabato II, the listed chief executive officer of the company. There’s been no update on Grabato’s case since his indictment.

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