YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Charities and non-profit organizations that benefit schoolchildren and support people with life-threatening illnesses lost $768,000 to a compulsive gambler who today admitted promising them several rounds at the Augusta National Golf Course, a walk-on role on “Desperate Housewives,” and tickets to the Tony Awards but never delivered.
Several victims were organizing a class action suit when federal agents arrested Gregory Ciccone of Woodland Park in October 2010 on charges of defrauding at least 17 charities and non-profit organizations in his role as owner and president of GAC Consulting Group LLC.
A federal grand jury inquiry last May boosted the charges.
By striking a deal with the government that allowed him to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return rather than go to trial, Ciccone, 36, technically could face more than 20 years in prison under federal guidelines.
Although the stretch will likely be considerably less, he will be required to serve all of the time because it’s a federal conviction.
As part of his plea, Ciccone agreed to pay back $267,778 to the victims.
U.S. District Court Judge Katharine S. Hayden also could fine him up to $250,000, or twice the gain or loss caused by the crimes, as well as an additional $100,000 on the tax fraud.
Hayden continued Ciccone’s bail pending sentencing, which she scheduled for May 14.
After the winning bidders made their pledges and he received his commissions, Ciccone tried to stall them — including once telling a winning bidder that the 2009 Tour de France had been postponed, federal authorities said.
Ciccone used the ill-gotten gains, in part, to feed a gambling habit, they said.
From at least January 2007 through April 2010, Ciccone “induced charities and non-profit organizations to enter into contracts with GAC, which held itself out as a provider of high-value auction items to charities and non-profit organizations,” U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said.
“The charities typically paid GAC both an up-front retainer and a commission on the total amount of charitable pledges raised as a result of GAC’s contracted obligations,” he added. “Ciccone and GAC rarely, if ever, provided the promised items to the winning bidders, and refused to provide refunds of monies paid.”
“The promises he made from the very beginning were as false as the excuses he gave when he couldn’t deliver,” Fishman said. “Victims of schemes like these are not only the charities and donors who are defrauded, but also the worthy causes that lose out because individuals are wary of giving.”
One complainant said Ciccone “stuck my company for over $100,000 in renovations to his home. He spent money like water and then sent me fake wire transfers to show his income. I was contacted by his own brother telling me he defrauded his own parents… He is a liar and a cheat.”
Ciccone has contended he was being slandered.
“I apologize to all of my clients and potential clients for this unfortunate situation and look forward to continue success and relationships in raising money for worthwhile non-profit organizations,” Ciccone wrote in an online message board posting.
However, federal authorities noted that after his Oct. 26, 2010, arrest, Ciccone filed a false 2009 tax return on May 13, 2011, in which he failed to list certain retainer fees and commissions received from his victims, as well as gambling winnings.
Ciccone created the company in Sept. 2004 to “assist non-profit organizations, corporations and individuals with development and fundraising through special events and high-end auctions, along with grant writing and underwriting opportunities,” according to his LinkedIn profile.
Fishman credited special agents with the FBI, the IRS – Criminal Investigation — as well as members of his office who work in the criminal investigator program.
The plea, Fishman said, was secured by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Mack and Kathleen P. O’Leary of his U.S. Attorney’s Healthcare and Government Fraud Unit.