The Securities and Exchange Commission today filed fraud charges against a former Florida-based stock promoter currently serving a two-year prison sentence for lying to SEC investigators.
The SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida alleges that Robert J. Vitale defrauded investors in a Florida real estate venture, sold unregistered securities, and acted as an unregistered broker-dealer. Vitale and his firm Realty Acquisitions & Trust Inc. raised at least $8.7 million from investors, including many senior citizens. Vitale allegedly told investors their funds were “100% protected” when they were not, and he claimed to be a financial expert with a business degree from Notre Dame when he never attended college after graduating from Notre Dame High School in West Haven, Conn.
The SEC alleges that although Vitale told investors his success rested on his “great honesty and integrity,” he failed to tell them that he was charged by the SEC in 2004 for participating in a pump-and-dump market manipulation scheme or that he later settled the charges and was barred from the brokerage industry as part of the settlement.
Vitale is now an inmate at the Federal Detention Center in Miami. He was sentenced in September 2013 after being convicted of obstruction of justice and providing false testimony in the SEC’s investigation that led to the charges filed today.
“We are gratified that the criminal authorities held Mr. Vitale responsible for his attempts to derail our investigation,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “His prison sentence and our determination to uncover and charge his underlying misconduct notwithstanding his obstruction show how seriously we and our law enforcement partners take our missions.”
The SEC is seeking the return of allegedly ill-gotten gains with interest, a monetary penalty, and a permanent injunction against Vitale. The SEC’s complaint also charges Coral Springs Investment Group Inc. as a relief defendant, alleging the company holds assets that came from defrauded investors that should be returned.
“Vitale hid the truth from investors just as he tried to hide his assets during our investigation,” said Stephen L. Cohen, associate director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “When individuals barred from the industry continue their wrongdoing, we pursue them aggressively and seek to return their ill-gotten gains to investors.”
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by James J. Bresnicky and J. Lee Buck II. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the Florida Office of the Attorney General in this matter.