U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer to join Holland & Knight

Wifredo Ferrer
Wifredo Ferrer

Wifredo A. Ferrer, the outgoing U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, has accepted a position as head of the Global Compliance and Investigations team at the international law firm Holland & Knight.

The move, announced in a press release Wednesday, will put Ferrer in charge of corporate compliance and government investigations for the firm’s white-collar defense division.

Company officials said Ferrer, who with seven years as U.S. Attorney was the South Florida office’s longest-serving top prosecutor since the 1970s, will focus on both domestic and international clients.

“Over my many years in the South Florida community, I’ve been very impressed by the caliber and professionalism of Holland & Knight attorneys, many of whom I count as friends,” Ferrer aid in the news release. “The firm has an outstanding reputation in the profession and also embodies a culture that is deeply committed to giving back to the community. I look forward to contributing to its continued success.”

Ferrer will work at the firm’s Miami office, one of its 27 branches worldwide.

Former Statewide Prosecutor William Shepherd, who heads Holland & Knight’s West Palm Beach office, attributed Ferrer’s move in part to an opportunity to reunite with the head of the firm’s litigation section, John Hogan.

Ferrer previously worked with Hogan at the Department of Justice while Mr. Hogan was chief of staff to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

“I think it’s great to have Willy as part of the the team,” Shepherd said, later adding: “He’s a real trial attorney, both from the county attorney’s office in Miami-Dade and as Assistant U.S. Attorney, so he brings new depth to an already strong national team.”

Signore sentenced to 20 years in virtual concierge scam

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.

Joseph and Laura Signore in happier times.
Joseph and Laura Signore in happier times.

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.

Paul Schumack
Paul Schumack in body-building days.

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.”


Madoff victims still want billions from Jeffry Picower’s estate

More than six years after Jeffry Picower was found dead in the pool of his Palm Beach mansion, those who blame him for helping Bernard Madoff orchestrate the biggest financial fraud in the nation’s history are still trying get his heirs to pay up.

In this Nov. 26, 2005 photo, Barbara and Jeffry Picower attend the Association of Fund-Raising Professionals' annual Philanthropy Day Luncheon in Palm Beach, Fla. On Friday, Dec. 17, 2010, Barbara Picower agreed to return $7.2 billion that her late husband made through his association with disgraced financier Bernard Madoff. (AP Photo/Palm Beach Daily News, Jeffrey Langlois) MANDATORY CREDIT; NO SALES; TV OUT; MAGS OUT
Barbara and Jeffry Picower in 2005, four years before he drowned in the pool of the couple’s Palm Beach mansion.

West Palm Beach attorney Joseph Galardi said Thursday he plans to appeal this week’s decision by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge who threw out an $11 billion lawsuit he filed against Picower’s estate on behalf of New York resident Pamela Goldman and A&G Goldman Partnership.

Further, Galardi filed another lawsuit in Palm Beach County Circuit Court this month, claiming millions that Picower’s widow, Barbara, is using to run the charitable JPB Foundation rightfully belongs to the thousands of victims of Madoff’s long-running Ponzi scheme.

(NYT17) NEW YORK -- Jan. 14, 2009 -- MADOFF-BAIL-1 -- Disgraced financier Bernard Madoff, center, heads to Federal District Court in lower Manhattan, Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009. Federal prosecutors were challenging a ruling that allowed him to remain free on bail, although under house arrest in his luxury penthouse apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. (Michael Appleton/The New York Times) ORG XMIT: NYT17
Bernard Madoff heading into U.S. District Court in New York in 2009.

While both cases were filed on behalf of Goldman and the partnership, he is seeking to make both class-action lawsuits to benefit thousands who invested an estimated $20 billion with Madoff only to find out that the $65 billion he claimed they were worth came from phony profits that existed on paper only. The money was never invested. Arrested in December 2008, Madoff is now serving a 150-year prison sentence.

In his 37-page ruling his week, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Stuart Bernstein said the $7.2 billion settlement Barbara Picower reached with bankruptcy trustee Irving Picard in 2010 blocks Galardi’s attempts to seek more money for Madoff’s victims. As part of the settlement, a judge ordered a permanent injunction, barring creditors from “asserting claims duplicative or derivative of the claims” brought by Picard, Bernstein wrote.

Noting that the matter has been litigated extensively in various lawsuits, Bernstein cautioned against further litigation. While he rejected Barbara Picower’s request that he ban future lawsuits, he wrote: “the question is close.”

But, Galardi said, he isn’t challenging the injunction that was issued as part of the settlement that came a year after the billionaire medical entrepreneur drowned in the pool of his oceanfront home south of Southern Boulevard. While the amount Barbara Picower returned to Picard was eye-popping, scores of investors were forced to payback phony returns so Picard could redistribute the money to other investors.

In the lawsuits, Galardi is arguing that Jeffry Picower actively helped Madoff perpetuate the fraud. Therefore, his heirs should pay damages to those who were victimized by it, he said. “Picower was complicit,” Galardi said.

Picard, himself, made similar claims before reaching a settlement with Picard’s widow.

New York attorney William Zabel, who represents Barbara Picower in the New York litigation and is a director of the foundation that was formed to allow her to continue her charitable activities, wasn’t immediately available for comment. Well-known by Palm Beach County charitable organizations, Barbara Picower still gives money to the Kravis Center through the JPB Foundation, tax records show.