FORMER FOUNDING PARTNER OF FT. LAUDERDALE LAW FIRM PLEADS GUILTY TO $837 MILLION INVESTMENT FRAUD SCHEME
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Miami Field Office, announce that defendant Michael J. McNerney, a founding partner of the Ft. Lauderdale law firm formerly known as Brinkley, McNerney, Morgan, Solomon & Tatum, LLP, pled guilty on May 18, 2011, to a one count criminal Information charging him with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud investors in the Mutual Benefits Corporation (“MBC”). As part of his plea agreement, McNerney agreed to be responsible for $837 million in restitution to the investors who were victims of this fraud.
Sentencing has been scheduled for August 26, 2011 before U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan. At sentencing, McNerney faces a maximum statutory sentence of five years in prison.
For almost ten years, from about October 1994 through at least May 2004, McNerney was the lead outside lawyer for MBC, and participated in a scheme through which MBC sold investment interests in viatical and life settlement insurance policies to the general public, raising more than $1.25 billion from approximately 30,000 investors worldwide. A viatical settlement is a transaction in which a terminally ill person sells the death benefit of his or her life insurance policy to a third party in return for a lump-sum cash payment, which is a discounted percentage of the policy’s face value. A life settlement is similar to a viatical settlement, except the seller is not terminally ill, but is a senior citizen. In the sale of viatical or life settlements, an investor would realize a profit if, when the insured dies and the policy matures, the policy benefit is more than the price paid for policy. Any profit realized would be decreased by additional out-of-pocket costs, such as premium payments.
As charged in the Information, McNerney, as outside counsel for MBC, made and caused others to make, knowingly misleading representations concerning such matters as the management of MBC and its related entities and the sufficiency of the funds set aside to make premium payments on the investors’ policies. For example, among the misrepresentations made to investors, MBC’s sales agents falsely promised a “fixed return” on investments and falsely represented that MBC had a strong track record of accurately predicting life expectancies. In addition, McNerney and his conspirators concealed from investors and regulators the fact that Joel Steinger, a convicted felon, was the key decision maker at MBC. Through these and other misrepresentations, MBC engaged in an unsustainable Ponzi scheme, in which it used new investors’ monies to pay previous investors.
United States Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “Attorneys hold a position of trust in our society. As such, they are expected to deal honestly and truthfully with their clients and the general public in the exercise of their duties. This attorney breached that duty and defrauded investors by providing “legal cover” to what was essentially nothing more than a Ponzi scheme. McNerney abused his position of trust and used his law license to help commit this massive fraud. Such abuse will not be tolerated.”
“This is another case about an attorney who instead of doing the right thing was motivated by his personal greed and defrauded thousands of investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Special Agent in Charge John V. Gillies. “McNerney’s actions were illegal and unethical and those who engage in such behavior need to know that they will be brought to justice, regardless of how elaborate or complex they think their scheme is.”
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI and the Southeast Regional Office of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which previously brought a civil action against MBC and its principals. The matter is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerrob Duffy.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.