A woman charged with wire and mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit fraud in a Ponzi scheme was convicted in federal court.
The government said the Ponzi scheme by 67-year-old Lydia Cladek, of St. Augustine Beach, bilked investors out of $100 million.
The first witness in the case told the jury how she invested $200,000 with Cladek.
The FBI raided Cladek's business and home in 2010.
Cladek could get up to 20 years in prison when she's sentenced.
According to testimony and evidence presented at trial, Cladek offered investors the opportunity to loan money to Lydia Cladek Inc. in exchange for a promissory note from the corporation. The notes were secured by car notes that Lydia Cladek Inc. had purchased in the past.
Cladek represented that the assigned notes were genuine and valid, had never been assigned before and would not be assigned in the future. Prosecutors said she also represented that she would use the funds that were loaned by the investors to purchase new car notes. All of these representations were false, prosecutors said.
In some cases, the car notes attached as collateral to investor notes had previously been assigned to four or five investors in the past. In many cases, the car notes were then assigned to new victim investors, sometimes in as little as a week.
In addition to making false representations about the quality of the investors' collateral, evidence also showed that Cladek used new investor funds to pay interest to old investors and to fund her lavish lifestyle. By as early as 2003, Lydia Cladek Inc. did not have sufficient car notes on hand to provide promised collateral to all investors. By 2005, Cladek had outstanding investor notes of about $58 million, but only had car notes on hand for about $38 million.
By March 31, 2010, the date on which the FBI served a search warrant on Lydia Cladek Inc., the existing performing car notes owned by Cladek had dwindled to just less tha $4 million, while the outstanding loans to investors exceeded $90 million.
Prosecutors said Cladek used money given to her from investors to maintain lavish real estate holdings, including three vacation homes in Captiva and Sanibel, as well as a luxurious residence in St. Augustine Beach. Cladek maintained her own household manager who testified that she purchased much of the custom furnishings and accessories in the home for Cladek, including a set of sheets costing $2,000.
To invest, potential investors had to be personal friends of Cladek or be referred by an existing investor, prosecutors said. They said Cladek obtained many of her investors from her church and other social organizations.