A Rockland County swindler was sentenced May 23 to seven years in federal prison and ordered to forfeit $3.7 million in ill-gotten gains from schemes that mostly targeted Haitians.
Ruless Pierre, 52, of Nanuet enriched himself at the expense of friends and fellow Haitians from 2016 to 2019, and then squandered much of the money on unprofitable day trading and on maintaining a lavish lifestyle.
A jury found him guilty of securities fraud, wire fraud and structuring bank deposits to evade detection, after a two week trial last year in Manhattan federal court.
Pierre was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1969 and moved to the U.S., years after his parents emigrated, at age 17. He graduated from Nyack High School, earned as associate’s degree in accounting from Westchester Community College and a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Ramapo College.
He used his financial acumen and connections with family, friends and co-workers, according to a prosecutor’s sentencing letter, to exploit less sophisticated compatriots.
“It was because of his relationships with his friends and community that he was able to lull his victims into giving him their life savings,” assistant federal prosecutor Drew Skinner states in a letter to U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein. “It is the same reason why his victims have been so scarred emotionally by his breach of trust.”
Pierre devised three schemes.
He formed Amongst Friends Investment Group in 2016 and R. Pierre Consulting Group in 2017 to solicit money for investments and then promised investors preposterous returns of 20% every 60 days.
He transferred the funds to securities trading accounts and then engaged in day trading, losing $1.4 million.
In 2018 he began offering “silent partnerships” in three Planet Wings restaurant franchises that he claimed to own. He promised monthly returns of 5% plus a pro rata share of 40% of the profits. He eventually bought one franchise for $50,000.
He charged a 53-year-old, disabled woman $25,000 per Planet Wings share while charging others $5,000 per share.
Pierre took in nearly $3.4 million from more than 100 investors in the Amongst Friends and Planet Wings schemes. His defense attorneys claim that $2.1 million is a more accurate figure, when counting funds that were returned to victims.
In both schemes, according to court records, Pierre used money from new investors in Ponzi-like fashion to repay previous investors who wanted to redeem their shares, thus enabling the fraud to continue undetected.
The third scheme targeted his former employer, the Palisades Conference Center in Orangetown, where he was the controller until losing his job in 2018.
But for six months he continued to write and cash checks on the hotel’s bank accounts, embezzling a total of $322,000. He deposited the funds at various banks in amounts less than $10,000 to avoid detection.
Pierre’s attorneys — Brooke E. Cucinella, Mark J. Stein and Jerry J. Fang of Manhattan — urged the court to sentence him to prison for substantially less than 7 to 9 years. The U.S. Probation Office recommended 10 years.
“We ask the court to consider Mr. Pierre’s background, character, and determination to live a better and law abiding life going forward,” they stated in a sentencing memorandum.
They cited his perseverance in overcoming financial instability and family turmoil in Haiti. They point to his financial support and volunteer work for Haitian-Americans for Humanitarian Actions, a nonprofit organization that supports orphans, students and families in the U.S. and Haiti.
His crimes, they argued, “are an anomaly in a life devoted to helping others.” He has demonstrated remorse, repaid $331,481 to victims, and promised to do everything he can for the rest of his life to make things right.
Skinner, the prosecutor, asked the court to impose a 10 year prison sentenced.
He said Skinner was seen in his community as a successful hotel executive. He drove luxury cars, owned two homes and took expensive vacations.
appearances were deceiving. He was actually in debt., and it was his desire to support a lifestyle beyond his means and to portray success to others, the prosecutor argued, that motivated his swindles.
The woman who was charged five times more per share than other investors in the Planet Wings scheme, turned over $490,000 of her $500,000 life savings to Pierre, Skinner said. Now she has to work two jobs and 110 hours a week to pay her bills.
“Pierre’s fraud was brazen, long-running, and multifaceted,” he told the court. “Driven by greed, Pierre devastated dozens of victims, not only financially but emotionally. He cruelly breached the trust of even his closest friends and used his victims’ affinity for him for his own gain.”
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