Calif. Teen Busted in Online Gambling-Related Bank Scam

4 February 2004

Two years after getting into legal trouble over an Internet betting scheme, 19-year-old Cole Bartiromo is in hot water again.

The California teenager was charged this week with trying to steal money from a bank account to fund his online gambling.

The U.S. Securities Exchange Commission in January 2002 ordered Bartiromo to return $900,000 he obtained by defrauding investors and required him to account for all money raised through the scheme.

The settlement called for him to repatriate all assets outside the United States and deposit them into an account for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Under his original plan, Bartiromo set up a Web site, Invest Bettor 2001, through which he promised backers returns of 125 percent to 2,500 percent on their investment. Some were told the investment would pay off in a matter of days.

After an investigation was launched, it was discovered that the teen was using the money to gamble online.

Despite being placed on probation, it appears he still has a taste for online gambling.

Federal officials allege that Bartiromo, along with two of his friends, tried to get an employee of Wells Fargo Bank in Mission Viejo to release funds from a customer's account. Bartiromo told the bank employee the money would be used to gamble online for a profit and then the original amount would be turned back into the account, without the account holder noticing the money was gone.

The employee contacted his supervisors, and bank officials contacted local law enforcement, which then worked in concert with prosecutors to set up a sting.

A fake bank account was set up and communication was established between Bartiromo and the bank employee. Bartiromo instructed the bank employee to wire the money offshore where he could use it to gamble online.

Officials caught him wiring $450,000 from the fake account and charged him immediately.

Bartiromo claims he was set up and entrapped by federal authorities and denies any wrongdoing.

"I just want a second chance, and they're trying to destroy me and my family," he told the Orange County Register.

Bartiromo's friends, 20-year-old Oscar Godinez and 20-year-old Theo Liu, have also been charged in the case and are scheduled to go to trial next month before Judge John Walter in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Bartiromo faces up to 41 months in jail if convicted, though his attorney said the teen would get a much shorter sentence under a possible plea agreement.

Law enforcement officials said the teen has cooperated with them since being busted in 2002. He agreed to not violate securities laws again and had been on good behavior until the recent round of trouble.

In the wake of bank scandal, and Bartiromo refusing to answer questions, the SEC asked a judge to fine the teen millions of dollars. SEC attorney Alexander Vasilescu said the motion to fine him is still pending with the courts.A