The former chief compliance officer and comptroller at Executive Compensation Planners (ECP), a New York-based investment adviser and financial planning firm, was sentenced Tuesday to more than six years in prison for her role in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded clients of more than $11 million.
Vania May Bell pleaded guilty in March to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for helping her father, Hector May, the former president of ECP, with executing the scheme. She was ordered by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to pay more than $8 million in restitution and forfeit $589,942.
May pleaded guilty in December 2018 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and investment adviser fraud and was sentenced in July 2019 to serve 13 years in prison.
May started ECP in 1982. Bell joined him in 1993 and became a registered representative at an unnamed broker-dealer in 1994, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Starting around that time, May, with Bell’s help, convinced some clients to remove their money from the broker-dealer’s accounts to send to ECP custodial accounts. May and Bell then transferred the money to an ECP operating account and spent it on themselves, business expenses, and payouts to certain victims to keep the Ponzi scheme going, the DOJ said.
“Bell faked account statements that made people believe that they held millions, even when she knew that their money was gone,” the DOJ said.
Over two decades, May and Bell induced clients, which included relatives and friends, to transfer more than $11.4 million away from the broker-dealer accounts to them at ECP, the DOJ said.
“Bell wielded her role as chief compliance officer and comptroller to help conceal the fraud,” from the broker-dealer, the agency said.
May and Bell were caught in 2018 after a victim, Judy Jamieson, who was also a friend, asked to transfer the $15 million she and her husband had deposited at ECP, only to find just $50,000 remained in the account.
The Jamiesons alerted the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the fraud. They also filed a civil suit against ECP, May, and Bell and obtained a judgment of $31.6 million in May 2022, according to their representatives at law firm Sher Tremonte.
May and Bell “pilfered the retirement savings of over 15 victims, including vulnerable aging couples, close friends, relatives, and an employment pension plan of a construction company,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in the DOJ’s press release. “Bell now joins her father in prison to be held accountable for this devastating crime.”