Hamlet Peralta, the 36-year-old former owner of a Manhattan restaurant, is accused of soliciting investors for a fake wholesale liquor business and then using almost all of their money to either pay himself or pay back other investors, according to Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Peralta, a former drug dealer who served three years in federal prison beginning in 1996, fleeced more than $12 million out of his victims in the Ponzi scheme, law enforcement officials said.
The scam lasted from around July 2013 to 2014, when Peralta told multiple investors that money they gave him would be used in a profitable wholesale liquor distribution business and promised them high return rates, officials said.
However, he put no more than $700,000 of the millions he received toward wholesale liquor and used the remaining funds to wire money to himself, withdraw large amounts of cash, repay other investors and pay for personal expenses apart from liquor, according to prosecutors.
Peralta told one investor who frequently went to his restaurant, Hudson River Café, that he owned a business called West 125th Street Liquors and had been exclusively approved to distribute wine to a national restaurant supply company, but he actually did not own the business and had not been approved as a wine distributor for the company, feds said.
This investor gave Peralta more than $3.5 million throughout the next year, most of which was used for purposes like paying for restaurant bills and fancy clothes or paying back other investors, according to law enforcement officials.
Peralta's sister, whose bank account was used for the Ponzi scheme, gave up her brother when investigators confronted her, sources said.
FBI agents arrested him in Macon, Ga., on Thursday, and he has been charged with one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Peralta has also been sued for wage theft by the bartenders and wait staff of the Hudson Café, which has since been closed.
It is unclear which of the Brooklyn businessmen with ties to de Blasio is involved in both the federal probe into the NYPD and in Peralta's Ponzi scheme.
The NYPD investigation is centered on allegations that officers accepted international trips, cash and other gifts from the two businessmen in exchange for favors, such as police escorts to the airport.
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton stripped two high-ranking officers of their guns and badges and transferred two others on Thursday as a result of the probe.
The arrest of Peralta was a collaboration between the NYPD and federal investigators, and Bratton praised their work in a statement.
“As alleged, Hamlet Peralta violated the trust that investors placed in his fictitious wholesale liquor business venture by spending millions of his victim’s investments on clothes, food, and to continue the scheme," he said. "Thanks to the NYPD investigators and our federal law enforcement partners, Peralta will be held accountable for his actions.”
A message left with his lawyer was not immediately returned.