By Shayna Jacobs
MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — Identical twins who pretended to be stock brokers to craft a Ponzi scheme to defraud 20 investors, many of whom were blue-collar workers, were sentenced Friday to more than three years in prison.
Makara and Tsele Nkhereanye, 39, grew up in the East Village and attended Brooklyn Tech before Tsele studied at Stanford and Makara attended Princeton.
But they were not smart enough to know they'd get caught losing $2 million of their investors' money while lying about nonexistent returns, a Manhattan judge said Friday before sentencing them each to 3 1/2 to 10 1/2 years in prison.
"No one ever gets a way with it," Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Charles Solomon said. "With these defendants being that smart, you would think they would have realized that."
The twins pleaded guilty on Sept. 17 to 64 counts of grand larceny and fraud charges.
A construction worker from Jersey City, N.J., who invested with the pair said he had to cancel his health insurance and move out of his home to cope with the financial loss the twins caused his family.
Angel Benitez, 50 said he hopes to one day receive restitution from the pair.
Another victim, Ken Williams, 53, an education administrator from Harlem, spoke of the broken trust after 10 years of knowing the brothers.
"I trusted you, I really did," Williams said. "I don't know what's hurting me more — the trust issue or the loss of funds because I believed you were more than just guys who can turn a buck around."
Prosecutors said the first victim of their scheme was their own mother, who lent her sons $180,000 — her entire retirement fund — which they lost in failed investments.
"They are not twin Bernard Madoffs in front of you," said Gene Conway, a lawyer for Tsele Nkhereanye, when asking for sympathy from the judge.
Both brothers said they regret their crimes and pledged to fulfill their promise of providing restitution to all of the victims.