Israeli man admits conspiring with convicted Ponzi schemer and others to defraud investors of tens of millions of dollars, to launder money, and to obstruct justice


Date: May 28, 2024


Trenton, NJ — An Israeli man today admitted conspiring with Eliyahu "Eli" Weinstein, whose 24-year federal prison sentence was commuted after being twice convicted of defrauding investors of a total of $230 million, and others to defraud investors of more than $35 million in a new fraud scheme, and to conspiring to engage in money laundering and obstruct justice, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced.

Shlomo Erez of Israel, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Michael A. Shipp in Trenton federal court to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

“Shlomo Erez admitted to helping Eliyahu ‘Eli’ Weinstein, a twice convicted fraudster whose sentence was commuted by the then President of the United States, hide his identity from investors, ripping them off to the tune of millions of dollars and evading hundreds of millions of dollars in restitution to victims of Weinstein’s prior fraud schemes. This scheme used phony identities and false promises of access to deals involving scarce medical supplies, baby formula, and first-aid kits supposedly destined for wartime Ukraine to defraud victims. Erez will now face justice for his crimes, and we will continue to prosecute the other alleged conspirators.” U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger

“Financial crimes like the charges Shlomo Erez pled guilty to today cause great emotional harm to the numerous victims who trusted this defendant with their hard-earned money,” Jenifer L. Piovesan, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Newark Field Office, said. “We will continue to aggressively investigate cases of people who victimize others for their own financial gain.”

Four of Erez’s conspirators – Christopher Anderson, Richard Curry, Alaa Hattab, and Joel Wittels previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud. Wittels also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice and to conspiracy to engage in the unlicensed wholesale distribution of prescription drugs. All are awaiting sentencing. Charges are still pending against conspirators Weinstein and Aryeh “Ari” Bromberg.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Weinstein was convicted two times in New Jersey federal court for defrauding investors. His first case involved a real estate Ponzi scheme, and his second case stemmed from additional fraud Weinstein committed while on pretrial release. For these crimes, which resulted in combined losses to investors of approximately $230 million, Weinstein was sentenced to serve 24 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. On Jan. 19, 2021, after Weinstein had served less than eight years, the president of the United States at that time commuted Weinstein’s term to time served, leaving intact the rest of his sentence.

Soon after being released from prison, Weinstein began orchestrating a new scheme to solicit money from investors through a company called Optimus Investments Inc. (Optimus). Using the fake name “Mike Konig,” Weinstein ran Optimus with Bromberg and Wittels.

Weinstein, Bromberg, and Wittels received the bulk of investor money through a second company, Tryon Management Group LLC, which was owned and controlled by Anderson and Curry. Tryon promised these individual investors – consisting mostly of friends and family – lucrative opportunities to invest in deals involving COVID-19 masks, scarce baby formula, and first-aid kits supposedly bound for wartime Ukraine. Posing as Mike Konig, Weinstein provided the information for these supposed deals. Based on that information, investors gave money to Tryon, believing the deals were legitimate and not knowing about Weinstein’s involvement. In turn, Tryon transferred those funds to Weinstein, through Optimus. Erez served as a purported custodian of Optimus funds for Optimus’ investors. After receiving investor money, Erez conducted numerous financial transactions at Weinstein’s direction for purposes other than what investors were promised, including investing in a penthouse apartment in Miami, Florida, and a purported land deal in Morocco.

In February 2022, almost immediately after Tryon and Optimus started receiving investor money, Tryon was unable to pay its investors. Rather than reveal this information to investors, the conspirators agreed to pool money from existing investors of both Optimus and Tryon and use it to make monthly payments to other investors in a Ponzi-like fashion. The conspirators concealed this arrangement from investors by falsely telling investors that the payments derived from legitimate investment returns, not other investors’ money.

In late August 2022, the conspirators had a series of meetings in which Weinstein revealed his true identity to Anderson and Curry. In these meetings, at least two of which included Erez, Weinstein also admitted to making various false statements about purported Optimus deals and to misappropriating Tryon investor money. Both during and after these August 2022 meetings, the conspirators agreed to continue concealing Weinstein’s identity from investors and to raise additional money to pay off existing Tryon investors, all in an effort to stop the Ponzi scheme from falling apart and to cover up the conspirators’ fraud.

In addition to defrauding investors, Erez also conspired with Weinstein and others to launder the proceeds of their crimes. Erez opened bank accounts to hold money for Weinstein that Erez knew was the proceeds of unlawful activity, including the fraud scheme, and transferred it for the benefit of Weinstein and his conspirators. Erez also created entities to invest ill-gotten funds in real estate companies for the benefit of Weinstein and his associates.

Erez also conspired with Weinstein, Bromberg, and others to obstruct justice. They helped hide Weinstein’s assets that should have been used to pay over $200 million in restitution that he still owes his previous victims. They also concealed Weinstein’s myriad business activities, which he was required to disclose to the court, and which were expressly prohibited by the terms of his supervised release.

Conspiracy to commit securities fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice are each punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a maximum fine of either $250,000 or twice the gain or loss from the offense, whichever is greatest. Conspiracy to commit money laundering is punishable by a maximum of twenty years and a statutory maximum fine equal to the greatest of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greatest. Sentencing for Erez is scheduled for Nov. 5, 2024.

U.S. Attorney Sellinger credited special agents of the IRS-Criminal Investigation (CI), Newark Field Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jenifer L. Piovesan and the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Dennehy, with the investigation leading to the charges in this case. He also thanked the Securities and Exchange Commission, under the direction of Antonia Apps, Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan Fayer, Carolyn Silane, Mark Pesce of the Economic Crimes Unit in Newark.

The charges against Weinstein and Bromberg are merely accusations, and they are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

CI is the criminal investigative arm of the IRS, responsible for conducting financial crime investigations, including tax fraud, narcotics trafficking, money-laundering, public corruption, healthcare fraud, identity theft and more. CI special agents are the only federal law enforcement agents with investigative jurisdiction over violations of the Internal Revenue Code, obtaining a more than a 90 percent federal conviction rate. The agency has 20 field offices located across the U.S. and 12 attaché posts abroad.