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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Monday, September 25, 2017

On Friday, September 8, a former restaurateur was sentenced to five years in prison for his $12 million Ponzi scheme that involved two businessmen who allegedly bribed New York City law enforcement officers.

Hamlet Peralta owned the Hudson River Cafe in Harlem that is now closed. Back in May, Peralta pled guilty using a pretend wholesale liquor business to scam investors out of over $12 million, which included one investor that gave him more than $5 million. The 38-year-old used the funds for personal expenses and to repay other investors, according to prosecutors.

In Manhattan’s Federal District Court, Judge Katherine B. Forrest also ordered that over $5 million must be paid in restitution by Peralta.

Before the sentencing, Peralta said, “I have searched deep into my conscience to realize that what I have done is wrong. I’m deeply sorry.”

He added, “I want to go back to society as a law-abiding citizen. I want to go back to my family.”

Judge Forrest acknowledged the friends and family supporting Peralta in the courtroom and said he was “very eloquent.” However, she wanted to deter him from committing criminal acts in the future, which is why she imposed one of the harsher sentences in the guidelines. 

She said, “The moral compass that you had was not pointing due north.”

The New York Times reports, “After the sentencing, Mr. Peralta turned and waved at his family and friends. They waved back; one woman blew a kiss. The initial investigation into Mr. Peralta, who was charged in April 2016, was relatively narrow; the authorities were suspicious of large sums of money flowing through a small Harlem liquor store owned by Mr. Peralta’s sister, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing. But the investigation gained attention for its overlap with subsequent inquiries into bribery among city law enforcement officials. In particular, two of the investors in Mr. Peralta’s fictitious business, Jona S. Rechnitz and Jeremiah Reichberg, were said to have showered high-ranking police officers with jewelry, Brooklyn Nets tickets and hotel rooms in Rome and Chicago, in exchange for favors. The investigation into Mr. Peralta also led investigators to Norman Seabrook, the former leader of the city’s correction officers’ union, who investigators said took plane trips to the Dominican Republic paid for by Mr. Rechnitz. And both Mr. Rechnitz and Mr. Reichberg had raised money for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign in 2013. Three police commanders were arrested on federal corruption charges as a result of the bribery investigation, and Mr. Seabrook was indicted on a charge of honest services wire fraud and a charge of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud. A related inquiry into Mr. de Blasio’s fund-raising operation was closed in March. No charges were brought against the mayor or his aides.”

By Rachel Shapiro