After pleading guilty five years ago to masterminding a $29 million Ponzi scheme, a 76-year old Pennsylvania man now wants a federal judge to allow him to stand trial on claims that his now-deceased defense attorney "coerced" him to plead guilty when, in fact, he was not. Wesley A. Snyder, serving a 12-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to a single charge of mail fraud in 2007, appeared before United States District Court Judge Yvette Kane yesterday, claiming now that he never intended to defraud any of his 800+ victims. Instead, he claimed, his representations to the contrary in his plea agreement were made at the direction of his then-lawyer.
Snyder operated Personal Financial Management, which offered "wrap mortgage" and "equity slide down" mortgages to consumers. These types of mortgages typically featured a consumer who borrowed more money than necessary to mortgage or refinance their homes, with the understanding that the excess funds would be invested with the goal of reducing their interest rate and/or paying the loan off earlier than scheduled.
However, investors were later shocked to discover that not only had Snyder failed to invest their excess funds as promised, but that they were on the hook for the large mortgages originally taken out. When Snyders' companies ceased operations in 2007, the difference between the amount of funds purportedly paid to mortgage lenders and the actual amount was over $36 million. Rather than make the promised mortgage payments, Snyder used a majority of investor funds to pay company operating expenses and hide millions of dollars in company losses.
After he was arrested, Snyder enlisted the services of criminal defense lawyer Emmanuel H. Dimitriou. Snyder ended up pleading guilty to a single count of mail fraud, which carried a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison. In 2008, Judge Kane handed down a 12-year sentence to Snyder.
Now, Snyder claims in a 30-page filing that Dimitriou (who is since deceased) pressured him to plead guilty, telling him he could face up to 800 years in prison - one year for every victim. Despite agreeing that the plea agreement was "completely correct" at his sentencing, Snyder now claims that at least 22 of those facts are incorrect. Despite these apparent errors, Snyder claims that Dimitriou "badgered" him to respond to Judge Kane's questions in the affirmative. Additionally, Snyder claims that Dimitriou's judgment was impaired due to medication Dimitriou was taking for cancer. Had Dimitriou reviewed the allegations with Snyder, which Snyder claims never happened, Snyder alleges he would have chosen to go to trial.
Snyder's prosecutor has opposed the claims, noting that Snyder was repeatedly advised of his rights, asked whether he had had a chance to review the allegations with his attorney, and asked whether he was entering into the plea agreement on his own free will. Each time, noted the prosecutor, Snyder answered yes. Additionally, Dimitriou's son-in-law and former law partner joined the prosecutor in opposing Snyder, noting that while Snyder may not have originally had criminal intent, the scheme's spiraling out of control certainly ended with criminal intent.
Both sides will now submit written briefings based on Friday's hearing.