Joseph Signore’s attempts to curry favor with a federal judge by lauding himself as a bighearted champion of the underdog and blaming others for turning his virtual concierge enterprise into an $80 million scam backfired spectacularly on Monday.
Saying Signore’s tearful hourlong soliloquy only underscored his much-heralded ability to twist the truth, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley handed the 51-year-old former Jupiter-area resident a 20-year sentence for fleecing 1,800 people nationwide by promising them big returns on electronic kiosks Signore knew didn’t exist.
“This establishes that you are either delusional or you are a major fraud artist,” Hurley said of Signore’s claims of innocence. “Your performance today … (shows) you are either deluding yourself or have such a twisted view of reality you would go out and do it again.”
The hearing took so long that Hurley again ran out of time to decide what punishment former Coconut Creek resident Paul Schumack should receive for his role in the scam that operated out of plush offices west of Jupiter. Time constraints prevented Hurley from sentencing the two men and Signore’s ex-wife last week.
Schumack, 58, who faces a maximum 19½ years in prison, is to return to court Thursday. Laura Grande, 42, a former waitress who divorced her husband of three years last month, is to learn her fate today.
Attorney Michael Salnick, who represented Signore, declined comment on his client’s sentence, which was far less than the 30-year maximum he faced and five years less than federal prosecutors sought. But, Salnick said, he believed Signore had a good chance of getting an appeals court to reverse his December conviction on dozens of charges of mail fraud and money laundering.
Victims of the massive scheme said the sentence was too lenient. “He should have gotten more — he took away homes, retirement years and broke up marriages,” said Kristen Dalton, a New York City woman who lost thousands in the scam. “Twenty years is just not enough.”
Still, the hearing underscored the perils of testifying at length about matters that can easily be contradicted.
Wearing a neck brace after a recent fall off a jail bunk exacerbated his ongoing back problems, Signore repeatedly told Hurley that his one goal in life was to help others. “I wanted to be the Robin Hood,” he said of his motivation for starting JCS Enterprises. “I wanted to be an angel on Earth.”
But despite his lengthy recitation of various good deeds, records showed that Signore in 2004 was convicted in New Jersey for forging the titles to cars that were to auctioned off for charity. Signore pocketed $11,575 that was to go to the national Muscular Dystrophy Association and another charity, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Carlton. Ultimately, the restitution Signore was ordered to pay came from those who invested in the virtual concierge scam, he said.
“That doesn’t sound like a bighearted person,” Hurley said.
Hurley also rejected Signore’s attempts to smear Schumack by claiming the West Point graduate drained the virtual concierge operation without his knowledge. Schumack, who ran a successful ATM rental business before agreeing to sell the kiosks, sent Signore all the money he took from investors, after taking out his cut for commissions, Carlton said.
“It is a blatant disregard of the truth,” Carlton said of Signore’s claims that Schumack took advantage of him when he was busy building the business.
Hurley agreed, pointing out that evidence during the two-month trial clearly showed that Signore was the mastermind of the operation while Schumack and Grande were his accomplices.
Signore concocted a plan to bilk people by promising them returns of $10,800 on a roughly $3,500 investment in an electronic kiosk, Carlton said. The purported uses for the kiosks would vary depending on whether they were placed at hotels, hospitals, casinos or sports venues. For instance, ones placed at Roger Dean Stadium on Donald Ross Road to lure investors allowed people to order food without waiting in line.
Investors were told they would earn $300 a month over 36 months from advertising that would be placed on each machine. But evidence showed, of the 22,500 kiosks that were ordered, only 84 were produced and almost no advertising was sold.
Some early investors were paid with money that came from those who invested later. Some late investors eventually persuaded their credit-card companies to reject the charges. Still, the total loss was $31 million. And, Hurley said, Signore was the prime beneficiary.
“You were siphoning off the money completely,” he said.
While Signore blamed Schumack, company employees, its lawyer and accountant for his downfall, he had kind words for his ex-wife.
Ignoring the fact that Grande, like Schumack, unsuccessfully tried to convince jurors that Signore duped her into believing the operation was legitimate, Signore urged Hurley to show her mercy. “She was my angel,” Signore insisted. “She was my life.”
But mostly, Signore said, he was just confused about his predicament.”I don’t know why I was put through this,” he said, his voice cracking. “I wish I was a guilty man. It would be a lot easier to swallow.”