May 11, 2017 / 9:44 PM / 2 years ago

Ex-restaurateur linked to NYPD probe pleads guilty to Ponzi scheme

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former Manhattan restaurant owner, charged in a case that emerged from a federal corruption investigation of the New York Police Department, has pleaded guilty to running a Ponzi scheme after reaching a deal with federal prosecutors.

Hamlet Peralta, 37, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud on Thursday before U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan. He had been due to go to trial on Monday.

Peralta admitted in court to telling investors in 2013 and 2014 that he would use their money to start a liquor business, when he actually used it to repay earlier investors and fund renovation work on his restaurant, the now-shuttered Hudson River Cafe in Harlem.

“I knew what I was doing was wrong and that it was a crime,” he said. “I’m very sorry to everybody that I hurt and for my actions.”

The wire fraud charge against Peralta carries a maximum penalty of 20 years, but prosecutors have agreed to recommend 51 to 63 months.

The case against Peralta, brought in April 2018, emerged from a broader anticorruption probe targeting New York’s police department.

Had the case gone to trial, court filing showed that one of the government’s key witnesses would likely have been Jona Rechnitz, a businessman who has pleaded guilty in connection with the police probe and is now cooperating with the government.

Rechnitz was identified on the government’s witness list as one of Peralta’s investors. He and another businessman, Jeremy Reichberg, helped raise money for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2013 and 2014, and were linked to an investigation by federal prosecutors of the mayor’s fundraising practices.

That investigation, as well as a parallel investigation by state prosecutors, did not result in any charges against de Blasio, but Reichberg and several police officials were charged last June with a bribery scheme involving prostitutes and luxury trips.

Also caught up in the probe are the once-powerful head of the city’s correction officers union, Norman Seabrook, charged with secretly investing union pension funds in exchange for kickbacks, and three former police officers charged with scheming to give out gun licenses in exchange for bribes.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Tom Brown

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