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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, June 27, 2019

Two New Jersey Men Sentenced In Manhattan Federal Court For Scheme To Steal Over $2 Million In Stock Certificates From Deceased Manhattan Woman

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that ROBERT MERLO was sentenced today to 42 months in prison and STEPHEN DECKER was sentenced on June 12, 2019, to 57 months in prison for participating in a scheme to steal more than $2 million in stock certificates from the apartment of a deceased Manhattan woman, open a brokerage account in her name in order to liquidate the stocks, and then use those stolen assets to attempt to purchase over $2 million worth of gold coins.  MERLO was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft after a four-day trial in March 2019.  DECKER pled guilty to the same charges in January 2019. The sentence was imposed by U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan.  

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Robert Merlo and Stephen Decker engaged in a conspiracy to steal stock certificates from a deceased woman, liquidate them, and convert the proceeds for themselves.  Their conduct was the financial equivalent of grave-robbing, and the sentences they received reflect the seriousness of their crimes.”

As reflected in the Indictment, documents previously filed in the case, and evidence introduced at trial:

From approximately March 2016 to February 2017, MERLO and DECKER engaged in a scheme with others known and unknown designed to steal over $2 million from a deceased Manhattan woman (the “Victim”).  As part of the scheme, DECKER and another co-conspirator, who both worked in the Victim’s building, stole stock certificates valued at over $2 million from the Victim’s Manhattan apartment after the Victim’s death.  DECKER approached MERLO, a New Jersey-based insurance agent and DECKER’s longtime friend, to find a way to monetize the stock certificates.  In August 2016, MERLO and DECKER agreed with others to make false representations to a financial institution (“Company-1”) in order to open a brokerage account (the “Account”) in the Victim’s name, deposit the stolen stock certificates into the Account, and sell the shares in the brokerage account, resulting in a cash balance of over $2 million.  MERLO agreed to help launder the cash balance in the brokerage account, approaching several individuals to carry out his plan.  MERLO, DECKER, and their co-conspirators then attempted to purchase $2 million in gold coins using the assets in the Account.  MERLO, DECKER, and the other co-conspirators met several times over the course of months and communicated using prepaid or “burner” phones regarding the fraudulent scheme. 

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Judge Kaplan sentenced MERLO, 55, of Secaucus, New Jersey, to a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison on the aggravated identity theft count and 18 months in prison on the remaining counts, to be served consecutively to the two-year term of imprisonment.  In addition, Judge Kaplan ordered restitution in the amount of $75,000; the balance of the over $2 million in proceeds from the stolen stock certificates were previously recovered, as a result of the  investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation “FBI”), and returned to the Victim’s estate.   

Judge Kaplan sentenced DECKER, 61, of Secaucus, New Jersey, to a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison on the aggravated identity theft count and 33 months in prison on the remaining counts, to be served consecutively to the two-year term of imprisonment.

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI.

This case is being handled by the Office’s General Crimes Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cecilia Vogel, Sarah Mortazavi, Dina McLeod, and Alexandra Rothman are in charge of the prosecution.

Topic(s): 
Financial Fraud
Press Release Number: 
19-204
Updated June 27, 2019