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United States v. Cordo

April 04, 2003


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Criminal No. 00-cr-00046-4) District Court Judge: Honorable William W. Caldwell

Before: Nygaard, Alito and Rendell, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rendell, Circuit Judge


Argued December 16, 2002


Joseph Cordo appeals from a judgment of conviction and sentence entered in the District Court on May 22, 2001, following a jury trial for money laundering and related charges connected to his participation in several fraudulent investment schemes. We will affirm Cordo's conviction, but reverse and remand for resentencing.


In the early 1990s, appellant Joseph Cordo, who worked as an insurance salesman, was introduced to Steven Stackpole. Together with Gavin Greene, Stackpole had formed an investment vehicle, Entertainment Architects ("EA"), which was selling an investment program called the "Prime Trust Guarantee." In order to attract investors, Greene and Stackpole had fabricated an EA brochure and various other promotional documents and literature, falsely suggesting that investments in EA would be secured by commercial real estate and other holdings. Cordo eventually began selling EA investments.

In late 1994, Stackpole and Greene incorporated in New Jersey as EA International ("EAI"), and formed EA International Trust ("EAIT"), a wholly owned subsidiary of EAI, with themselves as trustees. This new investment vehicle, EAIT, then opened an account with Maidstone Financial, Inc., a New York investment banking firm. For investors, the new investment program would -- at least nominally -- include positions in blue chip stocks as well as the opportunity to participate in IPO's being underwritten by Maidstone. Investors were guaranteed a 12% annual return over five years, and were assured no risk of loss and that their funds were fully insured and IRA-qualified for tax purposes. Further, investors were told that no charges, fees, or commissions would be deducted from their investments.

All of these representations were complete fabrications. The funds were not insured, the plan was not IRA qualified, there was no way of guaranteeing returns, and extensive commissions and fees were deducted from the investments from the outset. Further, EA never disclosed that its sales force, such as Stackpole and Cordo, were not licensed to sell securities, nor that several of the individuals involved, including Stackpole and another co-defendant, Jeffrey Klepper, had been respectively sued for and convicted of fraudulent activities.

Between late 1994 and April 1997, thirty-four individuals invested $1.5 million in the program. Contrary to EA's representations, however, less than one third of that total was ever deposited into the Maidstone investment account, and the only other "investments" made by EA were the purchase of a two-bedroom condominium in New Jersey and a topless dance club in the Bronx, for a total of approximately $140,000.

Separate from the Maidstone investment activity, EA saw a potential market in obtaining better returns for funeral home directors on "pre-need" funds -- money they collect as prepayments for funeral services. Stackpole, Klepper, and Cordo were all involved in the exploration and development of the pre-need business, and another company, Commonwealth Partnership Trust ("CPT"), was formed by Klepper and Cordo to handle much of the day-to-day operations of the new venture.

Pennsylvania law requires that pre-need funds be deposited in trust with a Pennsylvania Bank, so, in 1996, EAIT entered into an agreement with Nazareth National Bank whereby Nazareth would accept pre-need funds from funeral homes and immediately deposit them with EAIT for investment. The homes were guaranteed at least 7% in annual returns, as well as the secondary benefit of having CPT assume the relevant record-keeping obligations. CPT was also responsible for marketing the venture to funeral homes, and for its part EAI agreed to pay CPT 20% of each dollar invested.

Some time in 1996, Cordo significantly reduced his active participation in EAIT's investment operations to assist in the care of his father, who had been diagnosed with cancer. Although not heavily involved in the daily operations of CPT, Cordo was the company's Vice President and was paid as much as 4% of every dollar invested in the program. Throughout this period, Cordo received commission checks for his work with CPT and EAIT. Many of these checks were endorsed over to his mother, who would cash them or, occasionally, deposit them into her own account. Further, Cordo would sometimes receive between two and four checks written by EAI on the same day, each with an amount less than $10,000 but together totaling over that amount. On one occasion, a payment of over $72,000 was paid by way of two checks totaling just over $7000, with the balance deposited into a CPT money market account. Cordo then opened a new checking account in CPT's name, wrote a check from the first account to the second, and then used most of the money in the new account for personal expenses. Also, from July 25, 1997, through August 19, 1998, thirteen checks were written directly from CPT to pay off a loan that Klepper had taken out on behalf of Cordo for the purchase of a boat.

Things began unraveling for EAIT in late 1997. Nazareth was served with a subpoena requesting all documents relating to its dealings with EAIT, and learned that Stackpole had been indicted for the misappropriation of $1.4 million of investments in the late 1980s and early 1990s, prior to the creation of EA. As a result, Nazareth immediately demanded an accounting, and subsequently discovered that less than half of its $5 million had been deposited into the Maidstone account.

After forcing Stackpole's resignation, Nazareth attempted to cover the death claim liabilities by obtaining one year term life insurance policies on the lives of the funeral homes' pre-need customers. On February 28, 1998, EAIT's Maidstone account, which by that time was worth only $440,000, was liquidated. EAIT's Park Avenue offices were abandoned in March, ...

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