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Fugitive Raleigh banker surrenders in alleged Ponzi scheme

Posted April 17, 2012

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— After three years on the run, a former Raleigh banker surrendered late Monday to federal authorities in San Francisco on charges that he ran a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of more than $75 million.

William Wise, 62, was indicted last month on 12 counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud and one count each of money laundering and conspiracy to commit fraud.

Wise operated Millennium Bank from a west Raleigh office. He billed it as a unit of a Swiss bank based on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, but federal authorities allege it was a front for a Ponzi scheme. The indictment charges that Millennium promised investors a 16 percent return on certificates of deposit, but Wise and a California woman used investors' money to repay earlier investors and fund lavish lifestyles for themselves.

The indictment alleges that Millennium sold close to $130 million in the fraudulent certificates of deposit between January 2004 and March 2009, and that investors lost more than $75 million.

In an interview with The Star newspaper in Toronto before his surrender, Wise said he was "prepared to take my lumps" in facing the charges.

"I’ve helped cause a lot of pain. Regardless of whether it was my intention or not, the result has been horrendous, horrific,” he said.

A receiver appointed by the court in 2009 to review Millennium's books found that Wise gave his wife a $12,000 weekly allowance and spent $6,000 to $10,000 a month each for his girlfriends, $1 million on wine, $800,000 to build an hangar in Atlanta for a corporate jet, $450,000 for three boats and an undetermined sum for a 2008 New Year's Eve party for 50 people on St. Vincent.

“We were living very well because we wanted to keep up appearances,” Wise told The Star. “Because we were such a small bank, it was very important that people felt comfortable.”

He said the stock market crash in 2008 prompted the decision to "borrow money" from investors to shore up the bank's finances. At the time, he said, he didn't feel any guilt over the move.

"I wasn’t dealing day to day with the people,” he said. “You lose sight of reality and lose touch. It’s just the reality. I wasn’t hearing the voices.”

A native of Canada, Wise disappeared in 2009, and authorities searched for him from Florida to Canada. His wife and son returned to Canada after U.S. authorities forced the sale of their luxury home in west Raleigh to recover cash lost in the alleged scheme.

He denied that he was in hiding, telling The Star that he has been living under his own name in the Toronto area.

Wise was ordered to pay more than $75 million to investors after failing to respond to a civil suit over the alleged scheme. His assets were seized and auctioned off to help repay investors.

“I don’t have billions squirreled away,” he told the newspaper. “I don’t have thousands squirreled away. I don’t even have hundreds of dollars squirreled away.”


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  • Riddickfield Apr 18, 2012

    Well the money finally ran out, so three hots and a cot sound pretty good to him about now.

    Amazed that people still fall for stuff like this. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Greed, its a powerful thing... for all parties involved.

  • westernwake1 Apr 18, 2012

    Guess he ran out of ill-gained money while on the run and turned himself in.

  • Thought Criminal WS Apr 18, 2012

    He turned himself in... it's the Die Hard principle.

    Steal a million they will look for you, steal 100 million they will find you. He's safer being caught by the gov't then private sector... and the no extradition countries also turn a blind eye to "business" being handled.

  • as400_guru Apr 18, 2012

    The biggest Ponzi scheme of all time is social security. Why don't we send the politicians to jail for supporting it? The government's Ponzi scheme affects all 300,000,000 plus citizens. This guy only screwed a very minute percentage of 300,000,000.

  • tiredofthenet Apr 18, 2012

    This fake bank of his was offering 8% interest on CD's when the banks were offering 2.5%. Anyone who put money into it had it coming. I don't even feel bad because it was so obviously a fraud. About a year before the shakedown I googled about this bank and found MANY websites saying it was a fraud. So if these people were too lazy to do an internet search, then they kind of had it coming.

  • mswayze Apr 18, 2012

    maybe he should get his retirement plan in order now that he's caught-with the rest of the 'felonious assault' criminals...

  • USAF20YR Ret Apr 18, 2012

    Rest assured, he has hidden millions away for after his release. There is no doubt that he has arranged some type of deal before turning himself in. The government saves face, they got him, and he does a few years. Sad part is this guy in DC has been doing the same thing for the past three years, on a much larger scale. It's just a game they all play.

  • ncgayatheist Apr 18, 2012

    If I were him I would have stayed in hiding. With the money shipped offshore he could have chosen a country with no extradition to the USA such as Morocco, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam etc and lived like a king on a fraction of his hidden funds. After all, if you are going to take the time to steal 100 million, you might as well do it with conviction.

  • DivaD Apr 18, 2012

    His glamerous lifestyle is now over......

  • superman Apr 18, 2012

    A fool and their money are soon parted. If he hadnt taken their money someone else would have. He promised a 16% return! If it is too good to be true it probably isnt! Glad they didnt invest in beachfront property in Kansas. I would have been suspicious when I saw his life style and all that money he was spending. I am glad I graduated from the 5th grade so I know better.