Santoro was among 47 people charged in connection with Operation Wooden Nickel, an 18-month investigation conducted by an FBI undercover operative that involved cooperation between the Southern District U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
U.S. Attorney James B. Comey said at a news conference Wednesday that the investigation revealed first a typical boiler room operation that fleeced investors seeking a safe haven in conservative currency trades. Then investigators uncovered a scam involving large banks where renegade traders intentionally lost money for their employers on trades to the benefit of their co-conspirators, and then received cash kickbacks in return.
Prosecutors say that George S. Balis, 56, of North Blenheim, Schohari County, is an attorney who was the chairman and CEO of the New Jersey-based Millennium Direct Inc. Balis was charged along with David A. Appell, 40, an attorney and legal advisor, with conspiracy to commit securities fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud for making false statements and material omissions while attempting to raise capital to finance an infomercial for an anti-wrinkle cream “Theracel.”
Appell, of Blauvelt, Rockland County, was also charged with perjury for giving false testimony about his participation in the private placement and fund raising that co-defendant Adam Swickle conducted for United Currency Group (UCG). Swickle was charged with defrauding 12 investors who bought $680,000 of shares in UCG.
Comey said at the news conference the investigation revealed “a staggering array of criminal conduct.” He also said the FBI agent “had more criminal schemes thrown at him than you can imagine.
“It’s downright depressing how much criminal activity he saw,” Comey said. The CFTC was involved because of the allegedly illegal trades in millions of dollars of foreign currency futures contracts at the retail level, an area the agency has been paying close attention to since Congress clarified its jurisdiction with the passage of the Commodities Futures Modernization Act in 2000, CFTC Enforcement Director Gregory C. Mocek said at the news conference.
In the unregulated world of the foreign currency spot market, which largely involves huge trades between banks, the U.S. Attorney’s Office used the mail fraud and wire fraud statutes to indict several of the defendants who generated losses for banks such as JP Morgan Chase and UBS Warburg Dillon Read.
Santoro was originally indicted last April after officials said he was caught on audiotapes with an undercover agent agreeing to launder money.
His defense laywer, Michael F. Bachner of Bachner & Herskovits, said the prosecution was merely trying to gain publicity for an old case.
“It is our position that Mr. Santoro at all times in his conversations with the undercover was clear that his activities were to be legitimate, that the transactions were to be legitimate, that he was an officer of the court and he was acting legally,” Bachner said. He added his client would be vindicated by many of the tape recordings, which supported his position.