Photo by Atanas Bezov—Getty Images/iStockphoto
By Reuters
December 23, 2014

(REUTERS) – A Kentucky businessman pleaded guilty on Tuesday to perpetrating a $53 million tax fraud, conspiring to bribe bank executives and scheming to defraud regulators, in a case that stemmed from a U.S. investigation of a failed New York bank.

Wilbur Huff, 53, faces 12 years in prison at his sentencing in April and agreed to pay nearly $140 million in forfeiture and restitution.

Huff, whom Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called a “vortex of fraud” in a statement on Tuesday, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to four counts, including failing to pay taxes, impeding the administration of Internal Revenue Service laws and conspiracy.

A co-defendant in the case, Allen Reichman, is scheduled to go to trial in March.

The case grew out of a probe into Park Avenue Bank, which went under in March 2010. The bank’s former president, Charles Antonucci, became the first person to be convicted for stealing U.S. government bank bailout funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, when he pleaded guilty in October 2010.

The bank’s senior vice president, Matthew Morris, pleaded guilty in October, according to prosecutors.

From 2008 to 2010, Huff controlled O2HR, a Florida payroll management company. Huff stole money that client companies paid to O2HR to cover federal taxes and workers’ compensation and used it for his own personal expenses, including mortgages, designer clothing and luxury cars, prosecutors said.

In addition, prosecutors said Huff and Morris conspired with Antonucci to bolster Park Avenue Bank’s capital by concocting false transactions that made it appear as though the bank had received a $6.5 million cash infusion. The fake capital investment made it easier for Antonucci to secure TARP money, according to the government.

Huff bribed Morris and Antonucci to provide him with fraudulent letters of credit that caused Park Avenue Bank to issue millions of dollars in loans to his companies, among other financial benefits, prosecutors said.

Huff, Morris, Antonucci and Reichman, an executive at an unnamed investment bank in New York, also conspired to defraud Reichman’s firm into providing a $30 million loan to finance Huff’s purchase of an Oklahoma insurance company, according to authorities.

The men hid the source of the financing from insurance regulators in order to circumvent Oklahoma law, prosecutors said.

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