NEW YORK (AP) – A team of con men posing as senior vice presidents of an international Wall Street investment firm cheated about 230 people nationwide out of more than $6.5 million, authorities said Friday.

Seven suspects were awaiting arraignment in federal court in Manhattan on mail and wire fraud charges after being arrested at their homes early Friday by the FBI. Another suspect was in custody in Croatia; three were at large.

One of the men was wearing a Curious George T-shirt as FBI agents led him to court in handcuffs.

Many victims were elderly people who “fell for the hard sell,” said Andrew Arena, head of the criminal division of the FBI’s New York office. Some lost their life savings.

The phony firm of Holston, Young, Parker & Associates had an actual lower Manhattan address, but also claimed to have offices in London, Zurich and Tokyo that didn’t exist, an indictment said.

In 2002 and 2003, the defendants, most of Russian descent, operated “a ‘boiler room’ with Holston cold-callers and brokers making numerous unsolicited telephone calls on a daily basis and using high-pressure tactics,” the court papers said. The victims were told their money would be pooled to make large trades on the foreign currency exchange market.

The callers used false names and identified themselves as senior vice presidents to dupe potential investors into thinking they were speaking to “a senior level, experienced employee,” the indictment said. One defendant falsely claimed that the firm’s clients included celebrities and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

Investors initially got bimonthly statements showing 5 percent increases in their investments, unaware most of their money was being diverted to bank accounts in Russian and Cyprus, the FBI said. By the time a final statement arrived showing 90 percent losses, the suspects had closed their doors.

According to the indictment, the unidentified victims included a resident of El Reno, Okla., who invested $1,000; one from Conneaut, Ohio, who invested $5,000; and another from Williamsburg, Va., who invested $10,000.

If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years in prison.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.