In an unlikely turn of events, a Florida man decided to change his plea from 'not guilty' to 'guilty' on the third day of his trial, effectively ending the trial. George Elia, 69, made his decision after hearing a morning of testimony from a number of his victims and several more scheduled to take the stand during the afternoon. Elia agreed to plead guilty to all ten charges he was facing, including nine counts of wire fraud that each carry a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison.
Elia was accused of targeting members of the south Florida gay community Wilton Manors, telling them that he was an established day trader who could achieve quarterly returns of 20% for investors. From March 2005 to January 2012, Elia raised more than $11 million from investors for various entities he controlled, including Investor Funding Group and a series of Vision Equity Funds.
However, rather than use the entirety of investor funds for their promised purpose, Elia misappropriated large amounts of investor funds, transferring money to other companies he controlled and paying personal expenses such as mortgage and car payments. In the marginal amount of trading actually conducted, Elia did not achieve the advertised lucrative gains, but instead incurred losses or only minimal gains.
Elia was arrested in March after returning from "vacation" in Cyprus - a country known for its lack of extradition treaties with the United States. After plea negotiations that would have had Elia plead to a single count of wire fraud, authorities unsealed a subsequent indictment in September that levied eight more charges of wire fraud.
Elia is scheduled to be sentenced on May 14, 2013. Elia's attorney indicated that they will be disputing the amount of investor losses, which plays a crucial role in the recommended sentencing range. Elia could potentially face a life sentence.
A copy of the SEC's complaint against Elia is here.