FBI agents arrested former Manhattan restaurant owner Hamlet Peralta on Thursday for allegedly masterminding a Ponzi scheme which defrauded 12 investors in his company of more than $12 million. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Peralta is now the third businessman linked to an FBI probe into corruption within the NYPD for giving lavish gifts to police in exchange for favors.
Peralta, 36, is the former owner of the now-shuttered Harlem hotspot, Hudson River Cafe. The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan charged him Friday with one count of wire fraud, stating that Peralta defrauded his investors by soliciting funding for his wholesale liquor business but used almost all of the cash to support his lavish lifestyle and pay his personal debts.
Of the $12 million Peralta received for his liquor business, only $700,000 was used on business expenses, authorities say.
According to the indictment, Peralta became friends with someone named “Investor 1”, who he convinced to invest $3.5 million in 2013.
“Of that amount, none, or at most only a minimal amount, was spent on wholesale liquor purchases,” the indictment reads. “Rather, Investor 1’s money was used to pay back other investors, to pay for expenses such as restaurant tabs and high-end clothing purchases, and to be wired to Peralta’s personal accounts and/or withdrawn in cash.” Peralta lied to the investors, telling them he owned West 125th Street Liquors; the real owner was his sister, according to the indictment. Peralta swindled at least 12 investors by promising them repayment within one week to 90 days, with interest of up to 4 percent, and offering West 125th Street Liquors as collateral.
Two of the investors in Peralta’s fake liquor business were Jeremy Reichberg and Jona Rechnitz, the businessmen behind the NYPD corruption scandal. Reichberg and Rechnitz have been accused of giving international trips and expensive gifts to NYPD officials for police favors. Yesterday, four ranking NYPD commanders were transferred in connection with the FBI corruption probe.
“As alleged, Hamlet Peralta solicited investors for his fictitious wholesale liquor business by peddling wholesale lies,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
Peralta will appear before a judge in Macon, Georgia Friday afternoon.
One disgruntled cop told the NY Daily News that he had been instructed by his former commanding officer at the 30th precinct to go easy on the Harlem River Cafe. According to this source, the commanding officer Raul Stevenson was frustrated by these orders to him from higher ups in the department, which included overlooking noise complaints and public drinking.
The cop said the rank and file also suspected someone was tipping off Peralta about upcoming surprise inspections of the restaurant by the NYPD, FDNY, and State Liquor Authority. On one Friday night visit, the restaurant was suspiciously empty and everything appeared to be in perfect order, the cop said.
Captains and chiefs attended dinners there, too, the source said.
The cop told the NY Daily News that the link between the Harlem River Cafe and the NYPD was Deputy Chief David Colon, who was a regular at the restaurant. Colon was one of the four officers disciplined on Thursday for accepting gifts for favors.