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Press Release

Leader of Real Estate Investment Firm Admits Role in $658 Million Ponzi Scheme and Multimillion-Dollar Tax Evasion Conspiracy

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. – The shadow chief executive officer of National Realty Investment Advisors LLC (NRIA) today admitted orchestrating a scheme to defraud more than 2,000 investors in a $658 million Ponzi scheme and conspiring to evade millions of dollars in tax liabilities, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced.

Thomas Nicholas Salzano, aka “Nicholas Salzano,” 65, of Secaucus, New Jersey, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Evelyn Padin in Newark federal court to securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Salzano admitted he made numerous misrepresentations to investors while he secretly ran NRIA behind the scenes. He also admitted to misappropriating millions of dollars from investors to enrich himself and his family and friends. 

“For years, Salzano told lie after lie to investors, continuously deceived them, and operated his business as a Ponzi scheme, through which he stole money from thousands of investors. His greed and flagrant disregard for the law caused staggering losses in excess of $650 million. This office will continue to prioritize prosecuting individuals, like Salzano, to ensure that those who engage in rampant fraud are punished with long jail sentences and are ordered to make their victims whole.”

U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger

“Many people who decide to invest have to put a lot of faith in so-called financial experts, hoping their money grows and doesn’t one day disappear,” FBI – Newark Special Agent in Charge James E. Dennehy said. “Salzano admits he played a role in a scam that cost investors $658 million. History has shown over and over and over again, Ponzi schemes don't ever pay out, yet criminals keep trying to beat the system. FBI Newark and our law enforcement partners are doing all we can to help the victims in this case. We want others who may have faced a similar situation to contact us so we can help you as well.”

“Salzano not only victimized thousands of investors, but he also defrauded honest taxpayers by concealing his income from the IRS and evading his tax liability to the tune of millions of dollars,” IRS – Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Harry T. Chavis Jr., Boston Field Office, said. “Today’s guilty plea by Salzano demonstrates how IRS – Criminal Investigation will continue to use their financial expertise to identify and investigate these types of investor fraud schemes with our law enforcement partners.”

As part of his plea agreement, Salzano has agreed to a prison term of eight to 12 years, a forfeiture money judgment in the amount of $8.52 million, and he has agreed to pay full restitution of $507.4 million to the victims of his offenses.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

From February 2018 through January 2022, Salzano and others defrauded investors and potential investors of NRIA Partners Portfolio Fund I LLC (the “Fund”), a real estate fund operated by NRIA, of $650 million through lies, deception, misleading statements, and material omissions. These included the financial position of NRIA, the manner in which the defendants and their conspirators used Fund investor money, and Salzano’s managerial role at NRIA and his history of fraud.

The defendants executed their scheme through an aggressive multiyear, nationwide marketing campaign that involved thousands of emails to investors; advertisements on billboards, television, and radio; and meetings and presentations to investors. Salzano led and directed the marketing campaign, which employed deception, material misrepresentations and omissions, and falsified documents to manipulate investors, which were intended to mislead Fund investors into believing that NRIA was a solvent business that generated significant profits. In reality, NRIA generated little to no profits and operated as a Ponzi scheme, which was kept afloat by new investors. Despite investing almost none of their own capital into the business, the defendants misappropriated millions of dollars of investor money to support their lavish lifestyles, including expensive dinners, extravagant birthday parties, and payments to family and associates who did not work at NRIA.

Salzano concealed his true managerial role at NRIA in an effort to avoid scrutiny from investors of Salzano’s history of fraud at a large telecommunications company. In addition to defrauding investors, Salzano orchestrated a separate conspiracy to obstruct, impede, and impair the IRS in its effort to collect millions of dollars in outstanding taxes Salzano owed to the U.S. Treasury by, among other things, lying to the IRS, using a web of nominees, opening bank accounts in the names of phony entities, and using false and fraudulent company documents. 

Conspiring to defraud the United States carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The securities fraud count and the wire fraud conspiracy count are both punishable by a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Pursuant to the terms of his plea agreement, the maximum prison term that can be imposed on Salzano is 12 years. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 6, 2024.

U.S. Attorney Sellinger credited special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Chavis in Boston; and special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Dennehy in Newark, with the investigation, with assistance from FBI Headquarters Criminal Investigative Division and the Department of Justice Tax Division.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan Fayer, Lauren E. Repole, and John Mezzanotte, all of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Criminal Division, with assistance from Trial Attorney Samuel B. Bean of the U.S. Department of Justice, Tax Division.


Updated February 28, 2024

Securities, Commodities, & Investment Fraud
Press Release Number: 24-076