Spiro Baltatzidis, Former Founder And Chief Executive Officer Of Starwich, Inc., Pleads Guilty In Manhattan Federal Court To Wire Fraud
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Keith Milke, the Inspector-in-Charge of the New York Office of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (“USPIS”), announced that SPIRO BALTATZIDIS, the former Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Starwich, Inc. (“Starwich”), pled guilty today in Manhattan federal court to a one-count Information charging him with wire fraud. BALTATZIDIS pled guilty before United States District Judge Ronnie Abrams.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated: “Spiro Baltatzidis engaged in an elaborate charade to dupe a financial institution into lending him many millions of dollars – creating fraudulent bank statements, and doctoring emails. Fortunately, the financial institution did not ultimately lend him the $25 million he was seeking, his charade was discovered, and he has acknowledged his guilt.”
USPIS Inspector-in-Charge Keith Milke said: “Mr. Baltatzidis’ attempt to defraud investors is a classic case of greed overcoming honest business practices. Postal Inspectors are steadfast in investigating and stamping out fraud, keeping the US Mail and all modes of communication safe and secure for the American public.”
According to the Information and statements made in today’s plea proceeding:
Starwich was a privately held corporation headquartered in New York that engaged in the food services business, and more specifically, the upscale specialty sandwich business. Starwich operated a micro-chain of restaurants located around Manhattan and maintained multiple corporate bank accounts (collectively, the “Starwich Bank Accounts”) at Citibank, N.A. (“Citibank”) into which investor funds were deposited.
From the summer of 2007 through May 2008, BALTATZIDIS solicited a $25 million investment from a financial institution (the “Victim Financial Institution”). BALTATZIDIS represented that the purpose of the investment was to expand the business operations of Starwich. In connection with the investment solicitation, the Victim Financial Institution conducted due diligence to determine whether Starwich was a prudent investment opportunity. This due diligence included, among other things, a review of Starwich’s financials. Accordingly, at the Victim Financial Institution’s request, on September 16, 2007, it received a fax from Starwich containing Citibank statements for one of the Starwich Bank Accounts. The first statement purported to cover the period December 1, 2006 through December 31, 2006, and reflected an ending balance of approximately $450,000. Another statement for the same account purported to cover the period June 1, 2007 through June 30, 2007, reflected an ending balance of approximately $1.2 million – an increase in the ending balance of well over 100% in the six-month period between December 2006 and June 2007.
Based in part on the fake bank statement that showed a balance of approximately $1.2 million in the account as of June 30, 2007, the Victim Financial Institution entered into a Memorandum of Terms (“the Memorandum”) with Starwich on November 2007. The Memorandum detailed the principal terms of a proposed $25 million investment in shares of Starwich to be divided into three stages of disbursements – $5 million, $10 million, and $10 million, respectively – provided that Starwich met certain conditions. However, the bank statements provided to the Victim Financial Institution were in fact fake. The actual bank account records from Citibank showed a balance of approximately $400 as of December 31, 2006, and approximately $200 as of June 30, 2007.
In furtherance of its due diligence, the Victim Financial Institution requested a further update of Starwich’s financials and in response to this request, BALTATZIDIS forwarded an email chain between BALTATZIDIS and an employee of Citibank (the “Bank Employee”) on November 15, 2007. The content of the email chain forwarded to the Victim Financial Institution (the “Victim Financial Institution Email”) reflected that BALTATZIDIS asked the Bank Employee for the balance of one of the Starwich accounts for the period ending September 30, 2007, and the Bank Employee purportedly responded that the account’s current balance was approximately $1.3 million.
In fact, the email chain forwarded by BALTATZIDIS to the Victim Financial Institution on November 15, 2007, was materially altered from its original version (the “Authentic Citibank Email”). Specifically, in the Authentic Citibank Email, the Bank Employee wrote that the account’s current balance was “-$3,963.93,” whereas the Victim Financial Institution Email reflected a balance of “$1,317,963.93.” In addition, the Authentic Citibank Email included a copy of the account statement for the period ending September 30, 2007, whereas the Victim Financial Institution Email omitted the account statement.
From November 15, 2007 through May 2008, BALTATZIDIS and the Victim Financial Institution continued their discussions regarding the solicited financial investment in Starwich. By May 2008, however, the Victim Financial Institution decided against investing with Starwich and ended its discussions with BALTATZIDIS. In August 2008, Starwich filed for bankruptcy.
BALTATZIDIS, 37, faces a maximum prison term of 20 years and a maximum fine of the greater of $250,000 or twice the gross pecuniary gain or loss resulting from the crime. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Abrams on April 23, 2013, at 3:00 p.m.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the United States Postal Inspection Service.
This case was brought in coordination with President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, on which Mr. Bharara serves as a Co-Chair of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Working Group. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated, and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. Assistant United States Attorney Julian J. Moore is in charge of the prosecution.