A fraudster ran what the FBI called “the largest Ponzi scheme ever prosecuted in western New York,” and then attempted to sell the federal government non-existent COVID-19 masks during the pandemic. , was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
“I think you are a fraud, the biggest fraud I have ever faced in this court,” said US District Judge Frank Geraci Jr. told Christopher Parris, 42, at sentencing on December 19.
Parris was found guilty of defrauding more than 1,000 victims into investing more than $100 million as part of a scheme involving a string of fake companies and non-existent investment opportunities.
In January 2020, after his fake investment business network collapsed, Parris was arrested and charged with mail fraud and money laundering.
While not yet freed before trial in the Ponzi scheme case, Parris has embarked on another daring scheme to defraud the federal government in a COVID-19 protective gear scam.
As the COVID pandemic ravaged the United States in early 2020 and thousands of Americans fell ill and died, Parris offered to sell scarce personal protective equipment (PPE), including 3M brand N95 respirators, for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and other government, state, and health organizations.
In April 2020, Parris called someone he thought was a VA employee and said that his company, Encore Health Group, had purchased and manufactured PPE as well as ventilators and could manufacture them within one to two weeks, according to court filings seen by The Daily Beast.
A company spokesperson for Parris told another VA employee that it has access to 190 million 3M masks available for purchase, as well as 10,000 ventilators and 1.5 million protective face shields. (Minnesota-based 3M makes PPE.) Parris’s company sells masks for $7.50 each, while companies contracted with 3M offer them for $0.50. la each.
In an email to the VA, Parris said the masks were “on the ground” and his team was examining them, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said Parris misrepresented its ability to supply the VA with 125 million masks and other PPEs totaling more than $750 million.
“In reality, [Parris] no ready access to 3M factories or other 3M N95 or PPE respirators, no proven supply, and no track record of purchasing and delivering such items,” Office The United States Attorney for the Western District of New York said in a statement.
What Parris didn’t know was that the federal government was suspicious. According to court documents, an agent from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations went undercover, pretending to be a Louisiana procurement expert who was trying to buy face masks and other medical supplies. other economy.
Undercover agents discovered that the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management placed an order with Parris’ company of more than $7.3 million in PPE in March 2020, including 160,000 masks, but none arrived.
Parris was arrested in April 2020 and charged with fraud in the COVID-19 scam. Meanwhile, he is still facing charges for having previously participated in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded more than 1,000 people.
Prosecutors say that between 2008 and 2018, Parris and co-conspirator Perry Santillo conspired to defraud their victims by misrepresenting investment opportunities in a classic “Ponzi scheme.” Parris and Santillo run an investment firm called Lucian Development in Rochester, New York. They attract investments from elders, who have entrusted Parris and Santillo with their lifetime savings or retirement money. Instead, it was used to pay previous investors, prosecutors said.
The plan ultimately fell apart in June 2018, but not before Parris and Santillo made at least $115 million, according to court documents.
Santillo spent lavishly on cars, country clubs, casinos, real estate and expensive suits, according to a complaint filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The lawsuit alleges he threw himself a $150,000 birthday party in Las Vegas while embezzling investors’ money.
Santillo even put a song about himself, called “King Perry: King of Hyde,” describes him as someone who wears a “ten thousand dollar suit everywhere he rides.”
In October, Santillo was sentenced to 17 years in prison after pleading guilty to fraud by US District Judge Frank Geraci Jr.
Two months later, on December 20, the same judge found Christopher Parris guilty of conspiracy to commit mail fraud involving a Ponzi scheme and wire transfer fraud to fraudulently sell masks and PPE equipment.
In the emotional testimony given at Parris’ sentencing, the victims of the Ponzi scheme detailed the devastating impact the scam had on their lives. One person described wanting to commit suicide upon learning of his financial loss, according to reports. Democracy and the Chronicles. Others describe losing more than $1 million, or being forced to do good work at the age of 70, losing financial security.
“How many innocent victims are now unable to pay their rent or heat their home?” asked a victim during sentencing.
Prosecutors also criticized Parris for his COVID-19 PPE scam.
“This defendant exploited a situation that is unprecedented in our recent history,” said United States Attorney for the District of Columbia Matthew M. Graves after Sentencing Parris. “Cheat like this, which misleads fear in times of pandemic, deserves serious punishment, as the court announced today. This verdict should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks they can get away with stealing from the government or others in a crisis.”
In court, Parris’ lawyer, John Sperenza, said his client started out as a successful young investment banker but got lost when he joined a bankrupt company. Democracy and the Chronicles. He argued that unlike his accomplice Santillo, Parris did not spend lavishly and made an effort to return some of the money to investors.
“There is no denying that many people have been severely damaged,” Sperenza said, according to the newspaper. But Parris, he continued, “was part of that sadness and ruin.”
Prosecutors had another loss.
“It seems that Parris’s multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme to defraud investors with their hard earned cash was not enough, so he turned his attention to another scheme. million dollar COVID scam. There is no limit to Parris’ fault, and no one is safe as long as he fills his pockets with their own money,” Thomas M. Fattorusso, IRS-CI New York special agent, said later. when Parris was sentenced. “Paris will face justice; leaving his scam days behind when he spent his time behind bars.”