Ex-Synergy CEO charged in NY in $26 mln bank fraud

Fri Apr 13, 2012 2:58pm EDT

* Mair Faibish said to run $750 mln check-kiting scheme

* Bank fraud, conspiracy, false statements to SEC alleged

* Defendant expected to plead not guilty

By Jessica Dye

April 13 (Reuters) - A former chief executive of bankrupt food company Synergy Brands Inc has been criminally charged with attempting to inflate sales through a massive cross-border check-kiting scheme that cost one bank $26 million, federal prosecutors said on Friday.

Mair Faibish, 52, was charged with bank fraud, making false statements and conspiracy. He faces up to 30 years in prison, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn, New York.

Faibish intends to plead not guilty and will be "defending the charges vigorously," his lawyer Bradley Simon said in an interview. "When we have our day in court, I think it will be very clear there was absolutely no fraud."

The defendant was arrested on Friday morning, and was expected to be arraigned in Brooklyn federal court.

According to the indictment, Faibish and various accomplices ran a $750 million check-kiting operation in which checks backed by insufficient funds were transferred between associated companies and various banks in the United States and Canada.

Prosecutors said banks would make funds from the bad checks available, allowing Faibish and others to write more checks, which were then transferred to other companies.

One lender, Signature Bank, lost $26 million from the activity, according to the indictment.

A spokeswoman for the bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Faibish was also charged with overstating Synergy's financial condition in an August 2008 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

According to prosecutors, about 20 percent of the $44.5 million of sales that the Syosset, New York-based company reported for the second quarter of 2008 were fictitious.

Synergy also inflated its cost of goods sold and "prepaid" expenses, prosecutors said.

"Corporate executives who abuse their positions of trust can expect to be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law," U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement.

Synergy was a holding company with subsidiaries that distributed a variety of food and beauty products, cigars and baking mixes.

It was delisted from the Nasdaq in December 2008, and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in January 2011.

Among its directors at the time of the bankruptcy was Bill Rancic, winner of the first season of Donald Trump's reality show "The Apprentice."

A call and email to a representative listed for Rancic were not immediately returned Friday.

Synergy shares now trade on the Pink Sheets. They closed Thursday at 9/100ths of a cent.

The case is U.S. v. Faibish, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 12-265.

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