Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced the conviction yesterday of ROBERT MERLO, a New Jersey-based insurance agent who participated in a scheme to steal more than $2 million in stock certificates from the apartment of a deceased Manhattan woman, open a brokerage account in her name in order to liquidate the stocks, and then use those stolen assets to attempt to purchase over $2 million worth of gold coins, following a four-day trial before the Honorable Lewis A. Kaplan.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “We are gratified that the jury reached a swift and just verdict in this case. The conduct of the defendant was the financial equivalent of grave-robbing.”
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “There are few things more disturbing than stealing from the deceased. The conviction of Robert Merlo is a welcome conclusion – one that highlights our resolve to defend the truly defenseless.”
As reflected in the Indictment, documents previously filed in the case, and evidence introduced at trial:
From approximately March 2016 to February 2017, MERLO engaged in a scheme with others known and unknown designed to steal over $2 million from a deceased Manhattan woman (the “Victim”). As part of the scheme, MERLO’s co-conspirators stole stock certificates valued at over $2 million from the Victim’s Manhattan apartment after the Victim’s death. In August 2016, MERLO agreed with others to make false representations to a financial institution (“Company-1”) in order to open a brokerage account (the “Account”) in the Victim’s name, deposit the stolen stock certificates into the Account, and sell the shares in the brokerage account, resulting in a cash balance of over $2 million. MERLO agreed to help launder the cash balance in the brokerage account, approaching several individuals to carry out his plan. MERLO and his co-conspirators then attempted to purchase $2 million in gold coins using the assets in the Account. MERLO and his co-conspirators met several times over the course of months and communicated using prepaid or “burner” phones regarding the fraudulent scheme.
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MERLO, 55, of Secaucus, New Jersey, was convicted of one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison. The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge. Sentencing before Judge Kaplan is scheduled for June 10, 2019.
Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI.
This case is being handled by the Office’s General Crimes Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cecilia Vogel, Sarah Mortazavi, Dina McLeod, and Alexandra Rothman are in charge of the prosecution.