Pipedream Profits
Feb 03, 2009 | 3042 views | 0 0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In the famous courtroom scene in The Bonfire of the Vanities, an irate judge making a last stand for justice speaks out against greed, dishonesty, and corruption before finally imploring the assembled audience, and, perhaps, all of mankind, to live decent lives. That's all we can hope for the judge seemed to be saying. "Just go home and be decent people."

That's pretty sound advice, but as it turns out there are exceptions to every rule. In the case of alleged con artist Nicholas Cosmo, who was charged last week with swindling $370 million from mostly hardworking, everyday people, it’s quite clear the forces of greed can win out over decency. Sometimes it isn't even close.

Cosmo, who had an office of his investment company Agape World Inc., on Grand Avenue in Maspeth, used a classic Ponzi scheme to trick over 1,500 people into making short-term investments with supposedly high yield returns - pipedream profits that disappeared, quite literally, into a cloud of lies and deception.

In Maspeth alone, countless residents lost large chunks of money. A majority of them weren't high rollers out to make a fast buck, but family people hoping to use the extra money from their investments to make mortgage payments, start college funds for their children, or simply supplement their incomes during a time of deep economic recession.

Of course, as financial experts are quick to point out, responsible investors should be able to spot a Ponzi scheme from a mile away; money managers advertising unusually high dividends in an unusually short periods of time most likely aren't on the level.

And a quick look into Cosmo's background by any curious investor would have revealed a lifetime of shady dealings, connections, and even a prison stint for securities fraud. Cosmo's rap sheet should have been enough to send potential investors running. But, as victims of Cosmo's scheme have said in the days since his arrest, how were they supposed to know of his past? Or the fishiness surrounding the bridge loans he was offering?

These were, after all, and for the most part, decent people. Taxpayers, not financial wizards, who were willing to trust a so-called professional. The kind of people that live next door, send their kids to the neighborhood school and get to the movies, or the pub, or wherever, when time allows.

Cosmo saw this, took advantage, and made a swift move. He might go to prison for a long time, but it's unlikely the money he stole will ever be returned to its rightful owners.

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