WRAL Investigates

Raleigh banker accused of defrauding investors

Posted June 8, 2009 7:46 p.m. EDT
Updated June 10, 2009 1:45 p.m. EDT

— Federal securities investigators say a Raleigh man pocketed at least $12.3 million from investors to finance a lavish lifestyle locally and on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent.

William Wise, 58, operated Millennium Bank, which he billed as a St. Vincent-based unit of a Swiss bank. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit in March against Wise and others, saying they were using the bank as a front for a Ponzi scheme that has stolen more than $68 million from 375 investors, including at least 12 in North Carolina.

The suit alleges Millennium Bank advertised certificates of deposit that guaranteed 7 to 9 percent returns in luxury lifestyle magazines and on its Web site. The returns were more than four times the interest rates offered on CDs by most commercial banks, authorities said.

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, whose office is assisting in the investigation, said the high "guaranteed" returns should have raised red flags for investors.

"Part of the come-on with these countries is this is in a country that doesn't have the taxing schemes like we do here in America," Marshall said.

Anyone with questions or suspicions about securities investments should call the toll-free hotline in her office, 800-688-4507, she said.

Marshall said she couldn't speak specifically to the Millennium Bank case, but she said investment schemes typically crumble when investors try to cash out.

"Sometimes people just get tired of being fed a bunch of baloney," she said.

No criminal charges have been filed in the case, but a federal judge has frozen the bank accounts of 11 firms and seven people, including Wise; his wife, Lynn; and Philippe Angeloni, 63, a Millennium Bank director and former executive vice president who lives in Raleigh.

The government also has seized numerous items William Wise owned to auction them off and recoup some of the money investors lost, according to court records. The following are included among the items for sale:

  • A 1987 Bombardier Challenger 601-1A jet appraised at $5.6 million to $5.8 million
  • A wine collection estimated at $250,000 and gold wine stoppers
  • Handmade Nicaraguan cigar boxes, as well as gold cigar tubes and cigar holders
  • Collectible coins

Investigators said Wise planned to buy a hilltop estate on St. Vincent, with a pool overlooking the Caribbean and a private dock, before the federal suit was filed. He often flew friends there while he rented it to host elaborate parties, investigators said.

Wise's 5,200-square-foot, five-bedroom Georgian home in the gated Olde Raleigh community off Duraleigh Road, which he bought in 2001, is on the market for $1 million, and he hasn't been seen there recently.

Calls to his cell phone weren't returned, and a woman who answered the phone at the house said she didn't know where he was.

Neighbors said Lynn Wise, 52, and other family members still live in Raleigh, but the government considers William Wise's whereabouts unknown. Sources close to the investigation told WRAL News they believe he is back in his native Canada.

He has been seen around town in the last six months, visiting Bliss Salon at least four or five times since November.

Salon owner Ronda Sarich said he always came with a chauffeur and paid with cash.

"I thought he was odd. The fact that he was driven up in a car with a driver outside, I thought that was unusual," Sarich said.

About six weeks ago, he stopped showing up for haircuts, claiming once that engine trouble on his jet delayed him in Miami, she said.

Mike Cummings' company, Sound Profiles, did home-entertainment work at Wise's home until federal agents showed up there in March. He said Wise still owes him about $5,000 for a job that allowed Wise to watch hockey games from his laptop anywhere in the world.

"He had all the toys," Cummings said. "He paid up until his world started to fall apart."