Penny Stock ‘Kingpin’ Gets 6 1/2 Years for Boiler Room Plot

  • Canadian accused of peddling dubious stock at inflated prices
  • Winick pleaded guilty to conning penny stock investors

A globe-trotting securities dealer who set up boiler rooms throughout the world in what gave rise to one of the U.S. government’s largest penny stock fraud investigations was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison.

Sandy Winick, a Canadian described as a "penny stock fraud kingpin," was accused of masterminding two schemes that fleeced investors of $140 million. First, he and associates allegedly peddled dubious stocks at pumped-up values. Then he victimized buyers again by selling them a promise to help recoup their losses in exchange for a fee, the U.S. claimed.

Winick was sentenced on Wednesday in Brooklyn federal court for a conspiracy charge related to the lesser of the two plots. In a memorandum filed in May, prosecutors asked that he receive as much as nine years in prison, arguing that he "sat at the apex of two enormous international schemes. He pleaded guilty to only one due "to the skilled advocacy of his attorney," prosecutors said.

“There are low points in people’s lives, and you do things that you regret,” Winick told the judge. “I certainly regret getting involved in this whole thing.”

Winick has been in U.S. custody since his arrest in 2013. His lawyers had asked he be sentenced to time served.

"I don’t know how that plays into the morality of it, but this scheme didn’t affect U.S. citizens,” Richard Rosenberg, Winick’s lawyer said. “He’s an entrepreneurial sort, capable of putting his intelligence and entrepreneurial skills to good use in the future.”

Prosecutors said in the filing that it was "clear that Winick was the leader of a criminal organization that was extensive."

Known by as many as seven aliases including "Abdiel Vergara" and "Robin Cheer," Winick was arrested in Bangkok in 2013. He pleaded guilty last year to the "advance fee" scheme and admitted he and his associates targeted owners of "essentially worthless penny stocks" and "simply took the fees without providing any services," according to a transcript.

Sham Businesses

Prosecutors said Winick and the associates invented sham businesses, including fake law firms, to carry out the plot. They operated it out of call centers in Vietnam, Thailand and Canada, and planned to open a new one in Brooklyn, the government said.

Callers claimed to be investors interested in buying the stocks from the victims and falsely said they needed money for a legal opinion before completing the sale, prosecutors said in a court filing in May.

Winick was one of 12 men accused of taking part in the schemes. The rest have either pleaded guilty to related charges or were convicted at trial.

In November 2015, Arizona business owner Gary Kershner and California stock promoter Songkram Sahachaisere were found guilty by a federal jury in Brooklyn of fraud charges stemming from the pump-and-dump. Prosecutors alleged that victims lost $95 million.

Shell Companies

The men "took advantage of the investing public and sold them worthless stock of shell companies that were propped up by false press releases," Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said in a statement.

Winick, 58, previously ran Blackout Media Corp., a company registered in Wyoming with an address in Thailand that purportedly served as a holding firm for digital television, radio, Internet and printing subsidiaries, according to a complaint brought in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit. Winick actually used the firm, however, as a launchpad for worthless penny stocks, according to the agency.

From April 2002 to May 2004, the company, also known as First American Canadian American Holding Corp., spun off 59 subsidiaries by selling securities that weren’t registered, the SEC alleged. The agency said that Blackout Media and Winick violated registration, reporting and proxy provisions of federal securities laws through the spinoffs.

Peddling Ban

A Manhattan federal judge granted the SEC’s request in 2012 to ban Winick permanently from peddling penny stocks and ordered him to pay $4 million in penalties. In 2013, the Ontario Securities Commission also banned Winick from trading over the sale of shares in companies known as Liquid Gold International Corp. and BFM industries Inc. Those companies didn’t have any legitimate business operations, and Winick used the investors’ money to pay his living expenses, the OSC found.

A woman who became romantically involved with Winick and helped him in his Canadian schemes told the Commission that he was a "very secretive man, who splurged on expensive cars and vacations,” the Toronto Star reported in 2014. At Winick’s request, the woman, Andrea McCarthy, agreed to incorporate BFM Industries and list herself as a director, according to the Star.

The case is U.S. v. Winick et al, 1:13-cr-00452, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).

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