|California teen once accused of fraud faces conspiracy charges in bank scheme|
MISSION VIEJO, Calif. (AP) - A teenager who was accused two years ago in a $1 million US securities fraud scheme has now been charged with conspiring to steal from a local bank.
Federal prosecutors say 19-year-old Cole Bartiromo and two friends tried to persuade an employee at a Wells Fargo bank in Mission Viejo last August to let them "borrow" all the money in a bank customer's account.
Court documents say Bartiromo told the employee, identified as Thorsten Kuklinski, that Bartiromo was to wire the money overseas, make a profit by gambling on the Internet, then return the original money "before the account holder was aware the money was missing."
Kuklinski told his supervisors, and prosecutors set up a sting, in which they say Bartiromo was caught wiring $450,000 from a fake account to carry out the scheme.
Bartiromo denies wrongdoing, alleging entrapment by federal authorities.
"I just want a second chance and they're trying to destroy me and my family," he said.
Bartiromo's friends, 20-year-old Oscar Godinez and 20-year-old Theo Liu, have also been charged in the case, scheduled to go to trial next month in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
Bartiromo faces up to 41 months in jail if convicted, though his lawyer said the teen would get a much shorter sentence under a possible plea agreement.
The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint against Bartiromo in January 2002 alleging he raised more than $1 million by selling what he described as "risk-free" investments in which he pooled investors' funds to bet on sporting events.
In April 2002, the SEC filed a new suit alleging that Bartiromo also reaped at least $91,400 in a so-called "pump and dump" scheme, posting false information about companies on the Internet to inflate their stock prices and then selling his shares at a profit.
Bartiromo initially co-operated with authorities, returning the money he took from investors and settling fraud charges by agreeing not to violate securities laws again.
But he said he has since refused to answer questions, on advice of his lawyers. The SEC, in response, has asked a judge to fine the teen millions of dollars.
That motion is still pending, SEC lawyer Alexander Vasilescu said.