San Francisco — A former Raleigh banker pleaded guilty Wednesday to running a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of more than $75 million.
William Wise, 62, pleaded guilty to 12 counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud and one count each of money laundering, conspiracy to commit fraud and tax evasion. He will be sentenced in March, when he faces up to life in prison and millions of dollars in fines.
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 he admitted in federal court in San Francisco that it was merely a front for a Ponzi scheme. Millennium promised investors a 16 percent return on certificates of deposit, but Wise and co-defendant Jacqueline Hoegel used investors' money to repay earlier investors and fund lavish lifestyles for themselves.
The Ponzi scheme ran from 1999 to late March 2009. Wise admitted that, from January 2004 to March 2009 alone, he and Hoegel sold more than $129.5 million worth of bogus CDs to more than 1,200 investors, resulting in losses of more than $75 million.
A receiver appointed by a federal court in Texas 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.
Wise was on the run for three years before surrendering to federal authorities in San Francisco in April, telling The Star newspaper in his native Toronto that he was "prepared to take my lumps."
"I’ve helped cause a lot of pain. Regardless of whether it was my intention or not, the result has been horrendous, horrific,” he told the newspaper.
He also admitted in court Wednesday to owing more than $1 million in income taxes based on his earnings from the Ponzi scheme and that he evaded paying it by diverting money to interest payments on a private jet and to the construction and furnishings of a property on St. Vincent.
Federal agents seized Wise's possessions in 2009 and auctioned them off to generate money to repay investors. As part of his plea agreement, Wise will work with the receiver to obtain control over any remaining investor funds in bank accounts in the U.S. and foreign countries.
Hoegel, 55, of Pleasant Grove, Calif., still faces 12 counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, four counts of filing false tax returns and one count each of obstruction, conspiracy to commit fraud and making a false statement in the case.