If alleged “Mommy Pimp,” Anna Gristina, is sitting on Rikers Island unable to make $2 million bail in a one count indictment without a threat of a mandatory prison sentence, one can only assume that Long Island attorney, Robert J. Cassandro, will be resting his head on New York City issued pillows for the foreseeable future as well. However, those who would make such an assumption would be would be wrong as Cassandro posted $50,000 bail in a case of much greater magnitude in terms of penalty and criminal liability. According to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., prosecutors obtained an arrest and indictment of Cassandro for a Ponzi scheme that netted him $4.6 million dollars despite the fact that the alleged properties that were the centerpiece to the fraud and the defendant himself were located outside the jurisdiction. Charged with Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (New York Penal Law 190.65) and Grand Larceny in the First Degree (New York Penal Law 155.42), Cassandro cannot avoid incarceration should he be convicted.
Prosecutors claim that Cassandro committed his Ponzi scheme by lying to investors – family and friends – in order to convince them to invest in a business building single family homes on Long Island. Despite his promises that that money was secured, the New York County District Attorney’s Office believes that quite the opposite occurred. Unbeknownst to these “investors,” Cassandro allegedly defrauded them by offering the same investment and loan scheme to others. As a result, Cassandro pocketed these monies that far exceeded what was actually needed for the projects. Instead of providing the lenders with security that had been promised, Cassandro gave the mortgages on these properties to others as well. Compounding matters, it is alleged that Cassandro deposited millions of dollars into his escrow account. It was this escrow account, according to DA Vance, that Cassandro used as his own “slush fund” for expenses such as the mortgage on his own home, country club dues and personal credit cards.
While the Scheme to Defraud charge is a serious offense, it is “only” an “E” felony punishable by as much as four years in prison. The bigger issue for Cassandro is that he faces a “B” felony for Grand Larceny in the First Degree. If prosecutors can establish that his theft exceeded $1 million and he either pleads to this offense or is convicted after trial, a judge is required to sentence him to at least one to three years in state prison. Even worse, a judge can sentence Cassandro to as much as eight and one third years in prison to twenty-five years.
Whether Cassandro is acquitted, convicted or pleads guilty to a lesser offense, he will certainly have collateral issues beyond the criminal case. It is likely that the victims of his alleged crime will seek to claw back the ill gotten gains. Additionally, if they have not done so already, prosecutors will likely freeze many of his bank accounts and assets. Further, at a minimum, Cassandro’s career as a practicing attorney and lawyer on Long Island are in jeopardy. In a slightly ironic twist, according to Cassandro’s website, which is now offline, Cassandro focused his practice on “…business and real estate transactions…and estate planning/asset protection.” Unfortunately for the victims of this alleged itsy-bitsy-tinnie-winnie Madoff, the irony of failed asset protection is likely not lost on them.
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Founded by two former prosecutors who served in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the New York criminal defense attorneys at Saland Law PC represent clients in white collar crimes throughout New York City and the surrounding suburbs.