An East Setauket financial adviser accused of swindling at least a dozen senior citizens out of millions of dollars was arrested and charged with grand larceny, Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said Wednesday.
Steven Pagartanis, 58, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to two counts of first-degree grand larceny and two counts of second-degree grand larceny in Suffolk County Court in Central Islip. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison for operating what Sini called “a traditional Ponzi scheme.”
Pagartanis’ attorney did not speak to reporters after the court hearing.
Sini said Pagartanis stole at least $7.5 million from his victims. The Securities and Exchange Commission, which filed a civil complaint against Pagartanis in Brooklyn federal court Wednesday, put the number slightly higher, saying he swindled his clients of $8 million.
“We’ve identified well over a dozen victims and we believe there are more victims out there,” Sini said.
One victim lost more than $3 million, Sini said, while others lost hundreds of thousands. One victim suffered from dementia, the district attorney said.
“The defendant targeted the elderly,” Sini said. “He targeted those victims he perceived as vulnerable.”
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the private organization that regulates brokers, said on its website that it barred Pagartanis from working as a broker in April after receiving complaints from customers.
Judge Stephen Ukeiley ordered Pagartanis to wear a GPS ankle bracelet so authorities can monitor his movements. He was also ordered to surrender his passport and barred from leaving Suffolk County until the case is resolved. Pagartanis is scheduled to return to court on July 24.
Pagartanis, a longtime financial planner and the owner of Omega Planning Associates in Setauket, told clients he was investing their money in a Canadian firm called Genesis Land Development Corp. Instead, he used their money to pay earlier investors and cover his own living expenses, Sini said.
Pagartanis was able to sustain his alleged Ponzi scheme, which court documents say began in 2013 and continued through May 23, by making regular interest payments to customers and sending them fictitious account statements, according to an SEC statement.
The scheme began to fall apart, the SEC said, when Pagartanis stopped making the interest payments earlier this year. Sini said his office and the Suffolk County Police Department began to investigate Pagartanis after receiving complaints from the family of one victim.
Sini said the investigation is continuing and he encouraged Pagartanis’ clients to contact his office, even if they didn’t lose money.
“It’s important we know the full extent of the scheme,” Sini said.
Mitchell Freedman, a retired Newsday reporter who lives in Nesconset, says he lost hundreds of thousands in the alleged scheme.
Freedman said he began investing with the financial adviser about five years ago and said he received slightly better than average returns.
“I was happy with the results,” Freedman, 75, said.
All that ended in October, when Freedman received a call from a Baltimore firm Pagartanis was affiliated with, Lombard Securities. He said a Lombard representative told him there had been some problems with Pagartanis, and that he no longer worked for the firm.
Lombard officials did not return a call for comment.
Sini said his office will seek restitution for the victims.
Freedman said he hopes to get his money back — and answers, too.
“I’d love to know why he did it,” Freedman said. “I’d love to know what he did with the money.”