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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 11, 2017

Former Harlem Restaurant Owner Pleads Guilty To Engaging In Multimillion-Dollar Ponzi Scheme

Hamlet Peralta Told Investors He was Financing Large Wholesale Liquor Purchases, and Instead Used Money to Fund His Lavish Lifestyle and to Pay Back Other Investors

Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that HAMLET PERALTA pled guilty today to wire fraud in connection with his scheme to obtain money from investors by fraudulently representing that he was using their investments to further a profitable, multimillion-dollar wholesale liquor business. PERALTA pled guilty before United States District Judge Katherine B. Forrest. Sentencing has been scheduled for September 8, 2017, at 10:00 a.m.

Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said: “Hamlet Peralta swindled millions of dollars from unsuspecting investors who trusted him because of his reputation in the community as a business owner and restaurateur. As Peralta has now admitted, instead of being an honest broker, he stole their money and used it to fund his own lavish lifestyle and to further a massive Ponzi scheme.”

According to the Complaint and Indictment filed in Manhattan federal court and today’s plea proceeding:

From 2013 through 2014, PERALTA solicited more than $12 million from multiple investors by falsely representing that the investors’ money would be used to engage in wholesale liquor distribution for a profit. He made these promises both orally and in written contracts. To bolster the supposed bona fides of his fictitious business, he provided investors with forged invoices and other documentation, purporting to establish the high volume of liquor he both bought from licensed wholesalers in New York and sold to wholesale and retail clients for a profit.

In truth and in fact, however, PERALTA misappropriated the millions of dollars in investments he received. He took out much of the money in cash and used some of it to both support his lifestyle and rehabilitate a failing restaurant he owned. Because he purchased very little liquor and had no profits with which to pay back investors, he then began borrowing large sums of money from new investors on the false promise that he was investing that money in the liquor business, and used that money to repay prior investors.

In or about 2013, for example, PERALTA told a prospective investor (“Investor-1”) who was a frequent customer at PERALTA’s restaurant and who had become friendly with PERALTA that he (PERALTA) owned a separate business called West 125th Street Liquors and that he had been approved as an exclusive wine distributor to a major national restaurant supply company (the “Restaurant Supply Company”) that was beginning a wholesale wine business. PERALTA told the investor that he would receive significant interest on his investments, based on profits from the wholesale liquor distribution business. In truth and in fact, however, PERALTA did not own West 125th Street Liquors, and he had not been approved to be a distributor for the Restaurant Supply Company. Indeed, neither PERALTA nor West 125th Street Liquors ever supplied anything to the Restaurant Supply Company. PERALTA also provided vestor-1 with fake documentation on the Restaurant Supply Company’s letterhead, falsely representing that the Restaurant Supply Company would be electronically transferring PERALTA $1,826,350 within seven days.

Investor-1 provided PERALTA with more than $3.5 million over the course of the next year, a substantial portion of which was used to pay back other investors. Ultimately, PERALTA owed Investor-1 approximately $2 million. In all, PERALTA, who obtained approximately $12 million from investors, failed to pay back millions of dollars of that money.

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PERALTA, 37, of the Bronx, New York, has pled guilty to one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison. The maximum potential sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Kim praised the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Kan M. Nawaday, Russell Capone, Martin S. Bell, and Lauren Schorr are in charge of the prosecution.

Contact: 
James Margolin, Dawn Dearden, Nicholas Biase
Press Release Number: 
17-131
Updated May 11, 2017