by Brian Mahany
The headline in the Palm Beach Post says it all, “Ex Delray Beach Commissioner ‘Used God’s Name’ In Alleged $1.8 Million Ponzi Scheme.” Stories like this are far too common; fraudster’s using the Church or religious affiliations to steal from innocent victims.
What makes this case so unusual is the age and appearance of the alleged fraudster. Charlotte Durante is a frail 64 year old woman who recently appeared in court wearing a neck brace and in a wheel chair. She also served as a prominent African American activist in the community including a term as a city commissioner.
According to published reports, victims say that she defrauded them of their life savings. Many of the alleged victims are Haitian refugees who speak little English. One testified that he gave Durante money and was told that he would receive 18% interest. Another victim claimed, “She said she was trying to help Haitian people and she was doing it for god.”
Affinity theft is a growing problem. Its effects are mostly felt within insular ethnic communities and in close knit churches. Fraudsters use their membership or ties to a particular group to first gain the trust of their victims and then later use that trust to commit their crimes.
Durante is not taking the allegations lightly. Her and her defense team have mounted a vigorous public relations campaign to paint her as the victim. In a website claiming to be Charlotte Durante’s Legal Defense Fund, one person is accused of filing a false complaint with the Delray Beach Police Department and “recruiting, brainwashing, scaring and hoodwinking” alleged victims to come forward.
How this winds up is anyone’s guess but we suspect that Durante will be convicted and sentenced to prison. Notwithstanding her age and alleged frailty, it’s would be highly unusual for a jury to disbelieve a parade of witnesses claiming they lost their money to Durante.
For the victims, its not just about seeing defendants convicted of their crimes. For many, the bigger question is restitution. Will these folks get back their money? Probably not.
Investment scam victims stand the best chance of recovering their money if they purchased their investment through a third party such as a real estate broker or stockbroker. Investing directly with the promoter leaves few alternatives for recovery, if any, when the investment sours. Third party brokers and agents often have deep pockets and insurance.
Prosecutors say that in Durante’s case, the money went to struggling lifestyle and fashion museum run by her daughter. If the prosecution is right, victims may not see any money recovered.
If you feel like you are the victim of a Ponzi scheme or fraud, give us a call. Many times recovery can be handled on a contingent fee basis meaning no legal fees unless we get back your money. (Our cases are generally limited to losses of $200,000 or more and in situations where there are assets available or viable claims against third parties.) For more information, contact attorney Brian Mahany at or by telephone at (414) 704-6731. All inquiries kept in strict confidence.
Mahany & Ertl – America’s Fraud Lawyers. Offices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Detroit, Michigan; Portland, Maine; Minneapolis, Minnesota and San Francisco, California. Services available in many jurisdictions.
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