|Attorney General Platkin Announces Guilty Pleas in $1.3 Million Internet Fraud Scheme Involving Fictitious Sale of Aviation Equipment
Five NJ Residents Admit Roles in Defrauding More Than 200 Businesses Nationwide and Abroad
Trenton – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced guilty pleas in a $1.3 million internet fraud scheme that tricked businesses throughout the U.S. and abroad into paying for specialized aviation equipment that was never received. Four individuals entered guilty pleas in court this week. The organizer of the scheme pleaded guilty in a prior hearing and is facing up to eight years in state prison.
The scheme – carried out by Antonio P. Signo, 36, of Somerset with assistance from his father, brother, and two others – used phony websites advertising the sale of aircraft equipment and parts to lure businesses into wiring money to accounts controlled by the defendants. More than 200 businesses fell victim to the scheme over a five-year period, including operators of corporate and charter jet services throughout the U.S. and in France, Israel, and the U.K. The defendants were arrested in March 2022, following an investigation conducted by the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) with assistance from the Newark Field Office of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
“Putting a stop to financial crimes online and apprehending those who perpetrate them is a key function of our Office of Securities Fraud and Financial Crimes Prosecutions,” said Attorney General Platkin. “I commend DCJ and HSI for their work in dismantling this criminal operation. The guilty pleas we secured make it clear that those who violate the law may try to use the anonymity of the internet to fool their victims, but they cannot hide from justice.”
“The rise of digital commerce has made it easier for criminals pretending to be legitimate businesses to defraud victims near and far,” said Pablo Quiñones, Legal Chief of the Office of Securities Fraud and Financial Crimes Prosecutions. “While potential victims always should be alert for such scams, these defendants’ pleas underscore our commitment to identifying and holding accountable the perpetrators of such fraudulent schemes.”
The following defendants pleaded guilty before Superior Court Judge Kevin M. Shanahan in Somerset County on May 22:
· Sonny Signo, 55, of Elizabeth, New Jersey and his son Eddie S. Signo, 29, of Iselin, New Jersey each pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree receiving stolen property. Under the terms of the plea agreements, the State will recommend that they be sentenced to three years in state prison. Sentencing for both defendants is scheduled for January 5, 2024.
· Champagne Thompson, 30, of Iselin, New Jersey and Cindy K. Drake, 37, of Somerset, New Jersey each pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree receiving stolen property. Under the terms of the plea agreements, the State will recommend that they be sentenced to a term of probation set by the Court. Sentencing for both defendants is scheduled for July 21, 2023.
The lead defendant in the case, Antonio P. Signo, aka “Tony Demetro,” 36, of Somerset, New Jersey pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree theft by deception before Superior Court Judge Julie M. Marino in Somerset County on August 5, 2022. Under the terms of the plea agreement, the State will recommend that Signo be sentenced to eight years in state prison. Signo has been detained in the Somerset County Jail since his arrest on March 31, 2022.
The sentencing judge is solely responsible for determining the sentence to impose on the defendants. Under the terms of the plea agreements, all defendants will be ordered to pay restitution in an amount set by the Court.
In pleading guilty, Antonio Signo admitted that he orchestrated the online scheme, which operated from February 2017 through March 2022. Signo admitted he created the phony websites to deceive companies into believing he was a legitimate supplier of aircraft equipment and replacement parts, communicated with representatives of the victim companies, and directed them to wire funds into one of the more than fifty bank accounts he and the members of the scheme controlled. The victims wired the funds as directed, but never received the items for which they paid. When the victims sought to reverse the wire payments, they discovered that the funds had been withdrawn from the receiving bank account and, in many instances, that the bank account had been closed.
During the hearings on Monday, Sonny Signo, Eddie Signo, and Thompson each admitted to utilizing bank accounts for the purpose of receiving stolen funds and to withdrawing the stolen funds from the accounts. Drake admitted to knowingly receiving thousands of dollars from the scheme.
Deputy Attorney General Derek Miller is prosecuting the case for the Office of Securities Fraud and Financial Crimes Prosecutions, under the supervision of Deputy Chief Alyssa Bloom and Legal Chief Quiñones. The investigation was conducted by DCJ detectives with assistance from federal agents from the Newark Field Office of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations.
Antonio Signo: Alfonse A. De Meo, Esq.
Sonny Signo: H. Todd Hess, Esq.
Eddie Signo: William Fetky, Esq.
Champagne Thompson: Gregory Abramson, Esq.
Cindy Drake: Daniel Frascella, Esq.