Operators And Attorney Of Global Multimillion-Dollar Cryptocurrency Ponzi Scheme “AirBit Club” Sentenced To Prison
Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and James Smith, the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced that RICHARD ZEITLIN and ROBERT PIARO were arrested this morning and charged in connection with their schemes to defraud donors while soliciting money for certain political action committees (“PACs”). ZEITLIN was additionally charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice. ZEITLIN was arrested this morning in Las Vegas, Nevada, and is expected to be presented in federal court in Nevada this afternoon. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan. PIARO was arrested this morning in Fredonia, Wisconsin, and is expected to be presented in federal court in Wisconsin this afternoon. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Arun Subramanian.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As alleged, Richard Zeitlin and Robert Piaro lied to donors who thought they were giving to groups that were helping veterans, aiding law enforcement officers, and fighting breast cancer. Instead, Zeitlin and Piaro allegedly exploited these important causes and the good intentions of everyday citizens to steal millions of dollars in small donations. Today’s arrests demonstrate this Office’s commitment to ensuring that those who exploit charitable causes and political action committees for their own personal gain will be held responsible for their crimes.”
FBI Assistant Director in Charge James Smith said: “Zeitlin and Piaro are alleged to have made calculated decisions to purposely defraud donors to political action committees with misrepresentations and lies over an extended number of years. Deliberately deceiving those who make such contributions creates unwitting victims out of those interested in voicing an opinion. If you are a victim of Piaro or Zeitlin, please contact us at 1-800-CALL-FBI or tips.fbi.gov. The FBI is committed to ensuring anyone who callously perpetrates fraud on the American public using political action committees are held accountable in the criminal justice system.”
According to the allegations in the Indictments against RICHARD ZEITLIN and ROBERT PIARO unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
PACs are entities registered with the Federal Election Commission that may be tax-exempt and collect money to advocate on behalf of or against certain causes and political candidates. By contrast, charities, unlike PACs, typically provide direct services to communities or causes.
From at least in or about 2017 up to and including in or about 2020, ZEITLIN used his telemarketing call center business and various associated entities to defraud numerous donors by providing misleading and false information about how the donors’ money would be spent and the nature of the organizations to which they were giving. Specifically, ZEITLIN directed his employees to alter the call scripts used when calling potential donors on behalf of certain PACs in order to mislead potential donors into believing that they would be giving to a direct-services organization (i.e., a charity), rather than to a political advocacy organization (i.e., a PAC). Among other things, when one PAC treasurer confronted ZEITLIN with complaints from donors that solicitation calls falsely represented a PAC as a charity, ZEITLIN falsely denied that the calls were being made, acknowledged that such calls would be inappropriate, and refused to give the treasurer any call recordings that would have revealed his fraud. ZEITLIN directed that these lies, misleading statements, and misrepresentations be made so that donors would be more likely to give money, thereby increasing the funds raised and profits for his businesses – which typically received approximately 90% of the funds donated. In or about May 2022, after learning that ZEITLIN and his businesses were under federal investigation, ZEITLIN directed his employees to delete electronic messages relating to his businesses.
From at least in or about 2017 up to and including at least in or about December 2022, PIARO was the owner and treasurer of four PACs: Americans for the Cure of Breast Cancer, the Association for Emergency Responders & Firefighters, the US Veterans Assistance Foundation, and Standing By Veterans (the “PIARO PACs”). PIARO raised over $28 million from hundreds of thousands of donors nationwide through false statements and misrepresentations about how contributions to the PIARO PACs would be spent. For example, at PIARO’s direction, the PIARO PACs misrepresented to donors that donations would be used to advance specific legislation, educate lawmakers, and conduct and fund research, when PIARO did not and did not intend to follow through on those representations.
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ZEITLIN, 53, of Las Vegas, Nevada, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing and one count of wire fraud in connection with telemarketing, which each carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of obstruction of justice, which each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
PIARO, 73, of Fredonia, Wisconsin, is charged with one count of wire fraud in connection with telemarketing and one count of mail fraud in connection with telemarketing, which each carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
The statutory maximum penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants would be determined by a judge.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI.
If you believe you are a victim of fraud perpetrated by ZEITLIN, please find more information here: https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/united-states-v-richard-zeitlin.
If you believe you are a victim of fraud perpetrated by PIARO, please find more information here: https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/united-states-v-robert-piaro.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kedar Bhatia, Jane Kim, and Stephanie Simon are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Indictments are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
 As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Indictments and the description of the Indictments set forth herein constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.