Accused Ponzi-schemer Nicholas Cosmo onced owed tens of thousands of dollars in gambling debt to the Genovese crime family, the latest twist in a scheme federal authorities believed bilked small investors out of $370 million, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
A former Genovese family associate, Michael Durso, who is now in the federal witness protection program, and another associate met Cosmo in in the late 1990s, sometime around 1997, according to these people. It was at that time that they put pressure on Cosmo to pay around $139,000 owed to loan sharks connected with the Genovese family, they said.
At one point, members of the Gambino family intervened on Cosmo's behalf and paid some of the debt, these people said. Durso, these people say, has been in contact with the FBI about his alleged involvement with Cosmos.
An attorney for Cosmo when informed about the alleged connections with New York crime families had no comment.
Cosmo, the owner of Agape World, a Long Island investment firm, surrendered at a U.S. Postal Inspection Service office in Hicksville on Monday night. He is expected to appear in court Tuesday.
A letter hanging in Cosmo's office window denies there was any Ponzi scheme, the type of fraud Bernard Madoff is accused of committing. A Ponzi, or pyramid, scheme promises unusually high returns and pays early investors with money from later investors.
"Right now, I think I've been scammed," Richard Bennett, 55, a Valley Stream real estate investor who invested $30,000 with Agape World, told Newsday.
Unlike Bernard Madoff, who is accused of bilking wealthy individuals and nonprofits, Agape World investors are more "blue collar and they invested their life savings," Michael Kessley, a forensic accountant hired last year to investigate the firm, told Newsday.
Defense attorneys at the Herrick Feinstein law firm haven't returned telephone calls seeking comment.
—AP contributed to this report.