Ohio woman, 71, who led Ponzi scheme gets 9 years

August 21, 2012 - 6:36 PM

CLEVELAND (AP) — A northeast Ohio woman convicted of bilking $60 million from nearly 900 investors in a failed development project has been sentenced to nine years in prison after a long-running dispute over how much time she would serve behind bars.

Joanne Schneider, 71, pleaded guilty Monday to 11 felony charges in a Ponzi scheme she ran with her husband, prosecutor's spokeswoman Nicole DiSanto said Tuesday. DiSanto said the Lakewood woman will get credit for the 2 1/2 years she's already served, reducing the time she has left to serve to 6 ½ years.

In Ponzi schemes, investors are given payments that come from money by new investors. The couple had proposed a multimillion-dollar retail and entertainment development in the Cleveland suburb of Parma Heights that was never built.

Joanne Schneider's attorney, Paul Mancino, said Tuesday that she chose to plead guilty rather than face the possibility of a longer sentence if convicted at trial.

Schneider's husband, Alan Schneider, who prosecutors said played a lesser role in the scheme, was put on probation after pleading guilty to security and theft charges in 2009, according to DiSanto. His wife pleaded guilty to the investment charges and was sentenced in 2009 to three years in prison by a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge.

But the county prosecutor's office appealed that sentence, arguing there was a 10-year minimum sentence required for one of the charges — engaging in a pattern of corrupt activities. A state appeals court agreed and vacated Schneider's three-year sentence, sending it back to the Cuyahoga County court where Schneider was then sentenced in 2010 to 10 years on her original guilty plea.

Schneider appealed, saying she had not been given the option of withdrawing her earlier plea and won that appeal with the case going back the court in Cleveland, DiSanto said. A trial on the charges had been scheduled to start Monday.

Schneider instead pleaded guilty to five counts of securities fraud, two counts of selling unregistered securities and one count each of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, making misrepresentations in the sales of securities, theft involving an elderly victim and money laundering.

From 2003 to January 2005, Joanne Schneider solicited family members, friends and co-workers to invest in that and other real estate development projects, The Plain Dealer reported. The scheme unraveled when the Ohio Department of Commerce's securities division received a complaint from a family member who became suspicious after his mother was promised a 16 to 20 percent return on her investment, according to Commerce Department spokesman Dennis Ginty.

The division investigated and issued a cease-and-desist order against Joanne Schneider in May 2004 for selling unregistered promissory notes, but she continued selling the notes. A receiver eventually was appointed to take possession of the Schneiders' joint assets and of Joanne Schneider's individual assets, recovering $10.5 million for investors.