A former J.P. Morgan Chase advisor was sentenced Tuesday to five years in prison for embezzling more than $20 million from clients whose investment accounts he managed.
Michael Oppenheim, a longtime financial advisor at J.P. Morgan in New York, was also sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $20.2 million to the U.S.
Oppenheim, 49, pleaded guilty to embezzlement and securities fraud in Manhattan federal court in November.
Prosecutors said that Oppenheim abused his position by persuading clients to withdraw hundreds of thousands, and in some cases millions, of dollars from their bank accounts in the belief that he would invest the funds in low-risk municipal bonds. Instead, he used the money to engage in online trading, gambling most of it away. He also used the funds to pay to for personal expenses such as gambling and trading, a home loan, and credit card bills.
“Michael Oppenheim’s clients placed not just their money but their trust in their financial advisor, only to have Oppenheim use their investments as his cash cow,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
Oppenheim, a compulsive gambler who was seeing a psychiatrist for his addiction, tried to cover his tracks by providing his clients with phony account statements. On several occasions, he also transferred funds from one client account into another in a desperate attempt to replenish funds he had stolen.
In total, he swiped $20.2 million from eight clients, according to court documents. The criminal conduct occurred from at least March 2008 until he was fired from J.P. Morgan in March 2015.
"We worked closely with authorities throughout this process and are glad that the criminal case has been resolved," Mike Fusco, a spokesman for Chase Wealth Management, said in an email. He added that that the bank "has been working with all affected customers to ensure that any stolen funds have been returned."
The bank advised prosecutors that it had spent $26.6 million investigating and remedying the fraud and that it expects to incur additional costs as it finalizes resolutions with victims.
PERSONAL DEBT, BANKRUPTCY
Oppenheim had a gambling problem throughout most of his adult life, according to court documents. He had twice faced significant personal debt and bankruptcy prior to his latest gambling bout that started in 2008 and led to his current troubles.
When Oppenheim was dismissed from the bank, he had approximately 500 clients, who collectively had about $89 million in assets under his management. He targeted clients who he knew were susceptible to deception because they did not pay close attention to their account statements, according to court documents.
"I recognize that what I did was horrible," Oppenheim said, choking up on his words. He apologized to the clients he defrauded and to his wife and family, many of whom were in the courtroom.
Oppenheim worked for J.P. Morgan from May 2004 to March 2015 and held several titles during that time: personal financial advisor, financial advisor, senior financial advisor and most recently, private client advisor. He was barred by FINRA in July 2015, four months after his dismissal from J.P. Morgan, according to his BrokerCheck report.
Oppenheim's attorney, Paul Lewis Shechtman of law firm Zuckerman Spaeder, urged the judge for leniency, saying Oppenheim's gambling disorder caused him to make poor decisions. He also noted that Oppenheimer's daughter, a seven-year-old with severe developmental disabilities since birth, needed round-the-clock care from both her parents.
"He was in the grip of a disease that deprived him of sound judgment," he wrote in a court filing. "Compulsive gambling caused Michael to bet more in the hope of making his clients whole, when a rational person would have realized that gambling more made things worse."
As part of his plea agreement, Oppenheim also agreed to pay restitution of more than $27 million to the victims of his crime. A final restitution order will be submitted to the court by June 6.
Oppenheim is highly unlikely to make substantial restitution or forfeiture because "he has no assets," said Shechtman. "He lost it all gambling." If he works in prison, Oppenheim will have to set aside a certain percentage for restitution, but that "will not get you to $20 million very quickly," he added.
Oppenheim also faces a parallel SEC action. He and his wife have 60 days to respond to the complaint the SEC filed against them in April 2015. Oppenheim's wife is named in the complaint because one of the brokerage accounts he controlled and used for online trading was opened in his wife's name.
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