The head of the operation, Antonio P. Signo, 36, of Somerset – aka "Tony Demetro" – had been the first to take a deal from prosecutors rather than face the potential consequences of a trial.
The onetime fugitive pleaded guilty last August -- with no public notice from authorities – to a single count of theft by deception, New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin revealed on Thursday, May 25.
The cause for the announcement were guilty pleas this week from the four remaining defendants, including Signo’s father, 55-year-old Sonny Signo of Elizabeth, and his brother, Eddie Signo, 29, of Iselin.
Also copping pleas were Champagne Thompson, 30, of Iselin, and Cindy K. Drake, 37, of Somerset.
For five years, the thieves cut deals online for the purported sale of specialized equipment, including airline ground support parts and hydraulic jacks, Platkin said.
As soon as the payments arrived, members of the crew either made a bunch of cash withdrawals or slid the money into a Somerset County accomplice's account, the attorney general said.
The buyers got bupkis, he said.
More than 200 businesses in all got ripped off – among them, operators of corporate and charter jet services throughout the U.S. and in France, Israel, and the U.K., Platkin said.
Police in Scottsdale, AZ alerted New Jersey authorities to the operation.
An investigation followed by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice's Financial and Cyber Crimes Bureau, assisted by the federal Department of Homeland Security Investigations-Newark Field Office.
Signo admitted during last year’s plea hearing that he cooked up bogus websites to con companies into believing he was a legitimate supplier of aircraft equipment and replacement parts, Platkin said.
He told the judge he eventually directed representatives of the victim companies to wire funds into one of more than 50 bank accounts that he and his accomplices controlled.
When the victims tried to reverse the payments after not getting the goods, Platkin said, they found that the money had already been pocketed and the accounts closed.
Thompson and Drake, who were low-level participants in the scheme, each pleaded guilty in Superior Court in Somerville this week to accepting funds into their accounts.
In exchange, Platkin said, state prosecutors will recommend probation when they’re sentenced on July 21.
Sonny and Eddie Signo both pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property, as well. In exchange, Platkin said, his staff will seek three-year state prison terms when the pair are sentenced on Jan. 5, 2024.
The attorney general didn’t say why the father and son are being given so much time until sentencing.
Antonio Signo will take the most weight under the terms of his plea deal – a recommended eight years, Platkin said.
In an echo of Signo’s plea, the attorney general didn’t give a sentencing date.
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