Promising returns that were too good to be true, Cesar Humberto Piña "exploited celebrity status and social media" to scam dozens of people out of millions of dollars, U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Philip R. Sellinger said on Oct. 18.
Piña, 45, who lives in the suburban Bergen County town of Franklin Lakes, craftily "developed a devoted following" whom he then victimized, Sellinger said.
He built that following by partnering with DJ Envy – real name: RaaShaun Casey – in conducting real estate seminars around the country, the U.S. attorney said.
Piña began accepting investments from victim investors for the alleged purchase, remodel, and sale of specific real estate projects in New Jersey and other states in 2017, Sellinger said.
The enticement: Promised returns of 20 to 45% in just five months.
Instead of fulfilling those promises, Piña “engaged in a Ponzi-like scheme by commingling victim money, using new victim investments to pay off prior victims, and spending victim funds on personal expenditures,” the U.S. attorney said.
At least a dozen civil suits with claims totaling nearly $10 million soon followed, law enforcement sources said. That caught the attention of investigators.
A federal magistrate judge in Newark allowed Piña to remain free on $1 million secured bond on Wednesday -- with electronic monitoring – while the government pursues wire fraud charges against him.
Piña was raised in Washington Heights before moving to Paterson. His online press kit refers to a prior criminal record without being specific. It also says he’s been featured in Billboard magazine and on “Good Morning America.”
“With over 1,100 rental properties in Paterson, New York City, Chicago and Miami worth $65 million, Cesar has become the foremost authority on how to make it in real estate,” the bio says.
The majority of Piña’s portfolio reportedly has been concentrated in urban areas -- with 80% of them in Paterson, it says.
In 2006 he began touring the country giving talks with Envy, who’s one of the hosts of the syndicated radio show “The Breakfast Club.” His bio says Piña has also worked with 50 Cent, Killer Mike, Nicky Jam and Don Omar.
Piña reportedly arranged a call earlier this year between Snoop Dogg and Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small as part of the rapper's bid to invest in real estate.
Speculation has run rampant about whether Casey might have had some kind of as-yet unmentioned role in the scenario.
"If he took money, I wasn’t privy to it nor did I even know," he said during a recent segment of his iHeart Radio show, "The Breakfast Club."
"I do understand how people feel if they did give him money, because I gave him a lot of money that I didn’t see a dollar of returned,” Envy said.
Sellinger credited special agents from his office, as well as special agents and task force officers of the DEA, postal inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Newark, special agents and task force officers of IRS -- Criminal Investigation, and special agents of the FBI with the investigation leading to the charges.
He also thanked the Franklin Lakes Police Department for its assistance.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark J. Pesce and Carolyn Silane of Sellinger’s Economic Crimes Unit in Newark are handling the case for the government.
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