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SEC Says Bank VP Swiped|$20 Million From Clients

MANHATTAN (CN) - An investment broker stole $20 million from his customers and put it into his own trading accounts, then lost most of it "in short order," the SEC claims in court.

The SEC sued Michael J. Oppenheim and his wife, relief defendant Alexandra Oppenheim, on Wednesday in Federal Court.

The 14-page complaint identifies Oppenheim's former employer only as a major New York financial institution, or bank. Oppenheim, 48, of Livingston, N.J., was a vice president of the bank on his last day of work, which was March 18.

While working as a "private client advisor," the SEC says, "Oppenheim used his position to persuade at least two customers to withdraw a total of over $12 million out of their accounts on the promise that he would use the withdrawals to purchase safe and secure municipal bonds for their accounts. Instead, Oppenheim bought himself cashier's checks and deposited them into his own brokerage account or an account he controlled in the name of his wife, relief defendant Alexandra Oppenheim.

After each theft and deposit, and in short order, Oppenheim lost the bulk of the stolen funds in highly unprofitable options trading."

To cover his fraud, "and ensure that he could continue it," Oppenheim created fake account statements and transferred money from one customer's account to another, "to replenish amounts he had stolen earlier," the SEC says in the lawsuit.

During the three years that he ran his game, the SEC says, Oppenheim stole "at least $20 million from his customers."

The SEC seeks disgorgement, penalties and an injunction.

The SEC press spokeswoman in New York did not immediately reply to requests for comment Thursday.

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