What to Know
- The former owner of the Hudson River Cafe, Hamlet Peralta, will spend 5 years behind bars for a $12 million Ponzi scheme
- Peralta ran the scheme by promising good returns on a liquor distribution business that he didn't actually own
- His case was linked last year into corruption investigations that ended in arrests for several law enforcement officers and two businessmen
The former Harlem restaurant owner who ran a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of $12 million -- and who was connected to the two businessmen accused last year of bribing NYPD officers -- was sentenced Friday to five years behind bars.
Hamlet Peralta, the former owner of the Hudson River Cafe, will also be under supervision for three years after his release from prison and will have to pay more than $10 million in fines and restitution for tricking victims into giving him money for what they thought was a multimillion-dollar liquor business.
Instead of using the money for the enterprise, prosecutors say that Peralta used the money -- including more than $3.5 million from one victim who was a regular customer at the posh uptown restaurant -- to pay back other investors or for his own personal expenses. He pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in May.
"Hamlet Peralta swindled millions of dollars from unsuspecting investors who trusted him because of his reputation in the community as a business owner and restaurateur," said acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim. "Peralta deceived investor after investor through bald lies and forged documents, enticing them with high returns on investments he never made. Instead, Peralta used his victims’ money to pay earlier investors and to line his own pockets."
Kim's office said that Peralta ran his scheme between 2013 and 2014, telling his victims he was the owner of West 125th Street Liquors and that he had been made the exclusive wine distributor for a major restaurant supply company.
But prosecutors said that he didn't actually own the business -- his sister, who isn't facing charges, actually did -- or work with the supply company. He covered his tracks with at least one investor by giving them fake documents showing a a $1.8 million payment from the supply company.
The New York Times reported that Peralta said in court Friday that he wanted "to go back to society as a law-abiding citizen" after his release.
“I have searched deep into my conscience to realize that what I have done is wrong. I’m deeply sorry,” Peralta said before the sentencing, according to the Times.p
Peralta's case was linked with last year's investigation into Jona Rechnitz and Jeremiah Reichberg, two Brooklyn businessmen who were later arrested in a corruption takedown that also netted several NYPD supervisors and the former head of the New York City correction union, Norman Seabrook. The Times reported that Rechnitz and Reichberg were among the investors in Peralta's scheme.
Rechnitz pleaded guilty to charges last year and was cooperating with investigators; Reichberg, Seabrook and others charged in the case are awaiting trial.
Rechnitz and Reichberg also raised money for Mayor de Blasio's first mayoral campaign in 2013, but an investigation into the campaign's fundraising activities was closed in March without any charges.