When meeting with potential investors, Paul Geraci lavished them with tales about how they could get rich by bankrolling the development of an online app that would combine the best of the internet: playing games and shopping.

After one pitch, an eager prospect handed the 45-year-old Florida man $50,000.

But unlike most people who fell for the scheme, that curious investor wasn’t interested in making an easy buck. Instead, according to court records, it was an undercover FBI agent.

Last week, Geraci became the fifth South Florida resident to plead guilty to fraud charges in connection with the roughly $21 million Boynton Beach-based scheme that ensnared more than 300 people across the country.

Geraci joined forces with what prosecutors described as longtime fraudsters to convince people to buy stock in the online gaming app that they claimed would quickly be worth more than $1 billion, court records show.

Instead, the app, which would allow people to operate online stores with merchandise they bought with money they made winning games, was never launched by Geraci and his partners, federal prosecutors said.

Instead, they funneled as much as 50% of investors’ money into their own wallets and used some of the other proceeds to operate boiler rooms filled with high-pressure salespeople who were also working on commission.

So far, only one of those charged has been sentenced in connection with their work for Social Voucher, a lucrative company that operated from 2013 to 2018.

Michael Assenza, a 44-year-old Boca Raton, Florida resident, this month was handed a four-year prison term after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Prosecutors said this wasn’t his first investment scam.

In 2006, Assenza was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to securities fraud and money laundering, admitting he was part of a $5.3 million Boca-based scheme. He also pleaded guilty to a charge of arson for planning to firebomb the office of rivals who had discovered the fraud. Prosecutors said he never paid the court-order restitution.

Others, who have pleaded guilty to similar charges and are awaiting sentencing in connection with the Social Voucher scheme are: Paul Vandivier, 61, of West Palm Beach, and his 64-year-old wife, Cindy Vandivier, and Ted Romeo, 62, of Pompano Beach.

Gerald Parker, a 79-year-old Juno Beach man who prosecutors described as the ringleader of the operation, is to face a jury in September. However, in court papers, his attorney said he suffered a debilitating stroke and is not competent to stand trial.

Like Assenza, prosecutors said some of the other leaders of Social Voucher were involved in other investment schemes.  Romeo and the Vandiviers have civil judgments against them for bilking investors in other companies, they said. 

Parker, who was the CEO of Social Voucher, had a gambling problem and squandered much of the company’s earnings, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors are asking that all involved be forced to pay restitution to investors and have taken steps to seize houses bought with ill-gotten gains. 

Any money that is paid would be added to that already recovered by a receiver who was appointed when investors filed a lawsuit against Social Voucher shortly after it closed in 2018. The lawsuit is ongoing in Palm Beach County Circuit Court. 

While those arrested by federal agents never launched the app, the company, also known as Stocket, was bought in 2021 by a Delray Beach-based gaming and technology company. Some of the investors who sued Social Voucher now own stock in the new company.

Original Article