BROOKLYN (CN) - A Staten Island man pleaded guilty to hate crime and fraud charges for preying on the elderly in an insurance scam that netted him almost $4.5 million.
Paul Simoneschi, 70, pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny as a hate crime Tuesday for running a sham insurance company that targeted at least 21 elderly victims in Bay Ridge, a neighborhood on the southern tip of Brooklyn that's home to mostly working class Italian, Irish and Greek families.
His victims were in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, living in the neighborhood made famous by John Travolta's movie "Saturday Night Fever" in 1977.
"Shamefully, this defendant destroyed the retirements of elderly people who trusted him with their life savings. Some of them considered him a friend, but that did not stop him from taking advantage of their age and lack of financial knowledge to steal their money," Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said in a statement.
In addition to the grand larceny charge, Simoneschi also pleaded guilty to first-degree scheme to defraud and first-degree money laundering.
Simoneschi has already agreed to repay $4.4 million in restitution for his actions, Thompson said.
Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun has already indicated that Simoneschi could face four to 12 years in prison when he stands before him in March, according to Thompson.
The DA says that since as early as 2008, Simoneschi ran his scams through his company, Simmons Planning Group & Agency Inc., by schmoozing with clients, sometimes speaking in Italian to immigrants to get hold of their life savings.
Simoneschi is also accused of forging names to wrest control of his clients' insurance policies to cash them out and take their money.
He then tried to hide his actions by offering up bogus legal records, and placated his clients with payments from the accounts he controlled with their own money, Thompson said.
The scam came to light when one of the alleged victims called the DA's office after discovering that nearly $300,000 had been swiped from his bank account. That victim also went to police, and the investigation spread, according to the DA.
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