View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Alleged Ponzi scheme targets Catholics

There's an old saying - If it's too good to be true, then it probably is.

Some Catholic investors, many in Western New York, have allegedly been caught up in a Ponzi scheme that was too good to be true.

82-year-old Richard S. Piccoli of Williamsville is accused of processing millions - more than $17 million in the last five years alone - through a false mortgage company. It was an alleged Ponzi scheme - a scheme in which he would use money from new investors to make payments to earlier investors (and thus keep them happy , quiet, and clueless). But he reportedly never invested any of it, and allegedly transferred $600,000 to his personal accounts or to his children.

Piccolo ran ads for his business, Gen-See Capital Corp, in Catholic newspapers - including the Catholic Courier (Rochester) and the Western New York Catholic (Buffalo) for more than a decade. His clients included some 50 priests, religious orders, churches, and cemetery associations - though there haven't been any reports of ones here in Rochester yet, and spokesmen for the Rochester and Buffalo dioceses say the dioceses did not invest in the scheme. Piccolo also reportedly used his ties to the Knights of Columbus to get clients.

Rochester's daily, the Democrat and Chronicle, interviewed one woman (her name is not revealed) who saw his ad in the Courier (which is incorporated separately from the diocese, by the way) five years ago and invested $25,000. On paper, her investment is now worth more than $44,000, but who knows how much of even her original investment she will recover.

If true, it's terrible that he preyed on people that way, especially by using his religion to help him do so. But over the centuries many men and women have been guilty of using the cover of faith to steal from others.

He began advertising in the Courier when I was the associate editor there. But editorial (my department) did not interact with advertising - other than the number of ads sold dictating the size of the issue - so I had no contact with him nor was part of the decision to take the ads. That decision was under the control of the advertising manager and the editor-in-chief. Still, it bugs me that such an ad would have run while I was there. Maybe he was legit back then.


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