A former South Florida banker pled guilty today in connection with a scheme to steal over $60 million from investors and producers seeking financing for motion pictures and theater performances.
U. S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan for the Southern District of Florida and Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office made the announcement.
Benjamin Rafael, 30, of South Florida, admitted his role in the sophisticated fraud scheme during a change-of-plea hearing before U.S. District Judge Ursula M. Ungaro. Rafael pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349 (Case No. 19-CR-20447). Rafael faces a maximum possible sentence of twenty years in prison.
According to the indictment, Rafael’s co-defendants Benjamin McConley and Jason Van Eman held themselves out as film producers and financiers. In those roles, McConley and Van Eman offered to provide financing to investors and producers seeking funds to produce motion pictures, theater performances, and other projects. The indictment charges that McConley and Van Eman promised the victims that, in exchange for the victims’ cash contribution, McConley would match the contribution and use the combined funds to secure financing from financial institutions in South Florida and elsewhere.
According to the indictment, victims sent tens of millions of dollars to accounts controlled by McConley and Van Eman based on these false representation and promises. In truth, McConley never “matched” the victims’ contributions as promised in the funding agreements.
Instead of fulfilling their promises to victims, McConley and Van Eman allegedly stole the victims’ money by transferring the funds to their personal and corporate bank accounts, often within days of the victims’ contributions or loans.
In furtherance of the scheme, McConley and Van Eman convinced Rafael, a then-Wells Fargo Bank employee, to deceive victims about the security of their funds. During the course of the scheme, McConley and Van Eman repeatedly directed Rafael to falsely assure victims that their contributions or loans had been “matched” as promised in the funding agreements.
Following Rafael’s termination from Wells Fargo Bank in June 2015, Rafael, McConley, and Van Eman repeatedly lied to victims by assuring them that Rafael was still a bank employee.
During the course of the scheme, Rafael and his co-defendants also created and transmitted via e-mail, and through other means, false and fraudulent bank documents, including purported bank letters, including forged “proof-of-funds” letters, account signature cards, and deposit account balance summaries.
McConley previously pled guilty for his involvement in the fraud scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 17, 2020, at 1:30 p.m.
Van Eman is scheduled for trial on Feb. 18, 2020, before Judge Ungaro. He is presumed innocent of the charged conduct.
U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan commended the investigative efforts of the FBI Miami Field Office. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher Browne and Maurice Johnson. Assistant U.S. Attorney Adrienne Rosen is responsible for the asset forfeiture component of the case.