By Lukas I. Alpert
A scam artist known as “King Perry” has been sentenced to 17 ½ years in prison for running a decade-long Ponzi scheme that bilked more than 1,000 investors out of $115 million.
Perry Santillo, 41, of Rochester, N.Y. pleaded guilty in 2019 to being the mastermind behind a scheme that pocketed the life savings of many elderly people with promises of investment in non-existent insurance and real-estate ventures.
Instead, federal prosecutors and investigators with the Secu10rities and Exchange Commission say Santillo and his accomplices used the money to finance lavish lifestyles or to pay out earlier investors in the fund.
In all, prosecutors say nearly $71 million remains unaccounted for. A civil complaint filed in 2018 by the SEC, accused Santillo of pocketing more than $13 million which he was accused of using to buy luxury carts, houses in multiple states and high-rolling trips to Las Vegas casinos.
‘$10,000 suits everywhere he rides’
During one Vegas trip, investigators say Santillo threw a party for himself for which he commissioned a song to be written about himself called “King Perry.” Lyrics included lines describing him as wearing, “$10,000 suits everywhere he rides,” or that he liked to, “pop the champagne in L.A., New York to Florida; buy another bottle just to spray it all over ya.”
At his sentencing last week, the judge ordered Santillo to pay $102 million in restitution.
A nesting doll of Ponzi schemes
Prosecutors say the scheme began in 2007 when Santillo and his partner, Christopher Parris, who together operated an investment fund called Lucian Development, lost $10 million of their clients’ money in another fund, Capital City Corporation, that had also been a Ponzi scheme.
Rather than tell their investors — many of whom were friends and family — that they had lost their money, Santillo and Parris decided to buy the assets and liabilities of Capital City Corporation in the hopes of recovering the lost cash, prosecutors said.
But they soon discovered that Capital City’s debts far exceeded its assets and then began acquiring the portfolios of struggling investment funds or ones run by fund managers looking to retire, as a way to bring in new capital, investigators said,
Over the next 10 years, the men bought 15 such investment advisories in 11 states, convincing those funds’ clients to put their money in bogus or shell investments. In one case, the SEC said the men talked an 80-year-old man with dementia into putting $250,000 in a non-existent real-estate fund. Santillo and his accomplices pocketed the money instead, the SEC said.
Santillo’s attorney didn’t return a call seeking comment. In court papers, the attorney admitted his client had been naive and made poor choices, but had genuinely been trying to recoup the $10 million he had lost his clients in the Capital City investment and that the situation had spiralled out of control.
Parris pleaded guilty in August to his role in the Ponzi scheme and to separate charges related to a fraudulent scheme to sell non-existent N95 masks to the Department of Veterans Affairs in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. He is scheduled to be sentenced in February. His attorney didn’t immediately return a call for comment.