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Thursday, March 11,2010

Agency to return $7.7 million to investors in Internet scam

PHILADELPHIA — Hundreds of investors in a fraudulent Internet company will recover much of the money they lost thanks to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation that managed to seize $7.7 million of the missing assets.

A total of 869 investors from around country and overseas will receive about 62 percent of the $12.4 million they spent to buy stock in Pro Net Link, an Internet start-up that claimed it had databases listing foreign manufacturing companies.

According to John P. Kelleghan, special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Office of Investigations in Philadelphia, Pro Net Link was started by two French men living in New York, Jean Pierre Collardeau and Charles Nisenbaum.

They marketed their site as a way for domestic companies to connect with foreign firms. They owned large blocks of company stock under the names of surrogates, Kelleghan said.

To boost the price of their stock, Collardeau and Nisenbaum enlisted the help of the operators of a Web site that served as a tout for hot stock tips, he said. The operators of the site, in exchange for promoting the stock, also benefited from the fraud, Kelleghan said.

Some of the money stolen in the scheme was laundered through Atlantic City casinos, Kelleghan said.

Collardeau pleaded guilty to his part of the fraud and was sentenced to 50 months in prison. The federal agency seized $3.59 million in property and other assets from him.

The agency seized $1.13 million from Nisenbaum, who was sentenced to four and a half months in prison for his role in the scheme. Among items seized were five luxury cars, including an Aston Martin, a Bentley and a Maserati.

The agency seized $2.28 million from a third conspirator, Irving Freiberg of New York, who awaits sentencing. In addition, $740,000 was recovered from a Swiss bank account.

"This was a long time in the works," Kelleghan said. "There were a lot of complex schemes tied to this organization. But it worked out.

"It is not very often we get to pay back those folks who were victimized in these kinds of schemes. It is important people know when we do."


(c) 2010, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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