The Ponzi scheme epidemic of 2008 kicked off with part-time Palm Beach resident Bernie Madoff, and then hit Florida much harder than most states. That's the consensus of a new Forbes analysis, which found that Florida was second in total number of dollars lost to Ponzis, trailing only New York, and came in second behind California in total number of Ponzi schemes uncovered between 2008 and 2013.
Floridians lost about $5 billion to Ponzi schemes during the so-called "Madoff Era," about 10 percent of the $50 billion plus lost in the United States. All-in-all, 54 schemes were uncovered in Florida during that time.
So what makes Florida such a hotspot for Ponzi schemers?
"Florida has a large elderly population," Alison Jimenez, president of Dynamic Securities Analytics Inc., told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. "A lot of Ponzi schemes are affinity based. Many people are new to Florida, so they might tend to trust someone of the same religious beliefs or same nationality."
Indeed, one need only look at a sample of Miami-based Ponzis.
Gaston E. Cantens, a former board member for Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, was sentenced to five years in prison back in 2012 for running a $135 million scheme along with his wife that targeted elderly Cuban-Americans.
"The Cantens used their prominent standing in a close-knit Cuban-American community to ruthlessly exploit vulnerable elderly investors who trusted them with their life savings," Eric I. Bustillo, director of the SEC's Miami regional office, said in a release at the time. "They portrayed themselves as a pious couple closely involved with educational and religious organizations, while in reality they were living lavishly off money from defrauded investors."
Marguerite Martial Jean was popped for running a $3.4 million Ponzi back in 2011 that targeted the Haitian-American community and member of her own church, including her own pastor.
"She was a church officer!" minister Michel Lamartine Porcena told New Times at the time. "As her pastor, I never thought that this person, a church member, wasn't telling the truth."
South Florida was also home to the two biggest Ponzi schemes in the state. Fort Lauderdale brothers Joel and Steven Steiner's Mutual Benefits Corp. ripped investors off of a total of $1.25 billion, while another Fort Lauderdale resident Scott Rothstein made $1.2 billion disappear through his scheme.
Miami Beach's Nevin Shapiro has since become more infamous for his charges against the University of Miami football program, but his $880 million Ponzi scheme uncovered in 2010 was the third biggest in Florida.
Though Florida has had a large number of Ponzi schemes, the total amount of time they'll spend behind bars is not.
The Herald-Tribune notes that Florida ranks 26th on "the number of months in a sentence per the millions of dollars stolen."
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