St. Augustine woman found guilty of bilking investors for $100 million

Jurors convicted a St. Augustine Beach businesswoman and philanthropist of running a Ponzi scheme to rip off more than $100 million from investors. Lydia Cladek, 67, was found guilty of four counts of wire fraud, nine counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy. She is expected to be sentenced within the next three months, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Cladek’s pitch was buying subprime car loans from dealers at reduced rates and telling investors she was securing their money with those notes, according to the newspaper report. But none of that was true and, what she did pay in interest on older accounts came from new money people gave her – not from the actual earnings. She grew Lydia Cladek Inc. to a business with more than 100 employees, but had left town by the time the feds raided her business in May 2010. She was arrested seven months later.

Cladek’s criminal defense attorney argued she was free to pursue legitimate business interests, according to the report. But prosecutors painted a far grimmer picture of a swindler who dried up unsuspecting investors’ retirement accounts and life’s savings.
The jury chose swindler, convicting Cladek on all counts. Jurors are human. They watch TV, they know what’s going on around them. And sometimes, the timing of charges given the current landscape can be a deciding factor in a case. Cladek’s case comes not too long after Bernard Madoff put the Ponzi scheme square back in the American lexicon. Madoff, who was an investor for the stars and other wealthy moguls, is serving life in prison for running a $500 billion Ponzi scheme.

And make no mistake, Madoff’s name was likely invoked freely in Cladek’s case. That can cut both ways. On the other side, many Jacksonville defense attorneys would bring up Brenton Butler, a teen who was acquitted of murder charges after it was found detectives intimidated and beat a confession out of Butler. The Butler case was the subject of an Academy Award-winning documentary and led to changes in how the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office interrogates suspects.

Our Jacksonville criminal defense attorney has picked dozens of juries, and knows what questions to ask and what to look for to try to draw out biases and opinions as it relates to the news of the day.

If you need a criminal defense attorney in St. Augustine Beach or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our St. Johns County theft and fraud lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.