California Men Sentenced For $134 Million ATM-Leasing Ponzi Scheme

Two California men received prison sentences for orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme that caused losses exceeding $100 million in what victims thought was a highly successful ATM leasing venture.  Joel Barry Gillis, 75, and Edward Wishner, 77, were sentenced by U.S. District Judge S. James Otero to prison terms of 10 years and 9 years, respectively.  The men received sentences lower than the recommended federal sentencing guidelines, with Judge Otero indicating that he accounted for their age, early decision to plead guilty, and cooperation with a federal court-appointed receiver to recover assets for victims.  Each was ordered to report to prison on December 28, 2015.

Gillis and Wishner operated Nationwide Automated Solutions ("NAS").  According to authorities, NAS solicited investors since 1999 by promising that their funds would be used to place, operate, and maintain automated teller machines ("ATMs") throughout the country.  Investors were told that they could purchase ATMs for a price ranging from $12,000 to $19,800 from NAS, and could then lease those same ATMs back to NAS for a 10-year term in exchange for a "rent" of $.50 per ATM transaction.  A contract memorializing the investment purportedly contained the serial number and the location of the ATM, and investors were guaranteed an investment return of at least 20% annually.  Notably, each contract also included a "non-interference" clause prohibiting the investor from interfering with the operation of the ATM by contacting the locations where the ATM was installed or any ATM service provider.  An analysis of NAS' bank accounts from 2013 forward showed that more than $123 million was raised from investors in just that short period.

While the company's records showed that it had sold and was leasing back more than 31,000 ATMs to investors as of June 2014, third-party settlement reports provided by NAS's ATM servicers show that only 253 ATMs were serviced.  As the SEC previously alleged,  

Defendants have “sold” and “leased back” tens of thousands of ATMs to NASI investors that they never owned, that they never operated, and that may have never existed. 

For example, while NAS's internal records claimed ownership or operation of nearly 700 ATMs located at "Casey's Convenience Mart" locations in the Midwest, the Commission's investigation showed that neither NAS nor any of its investors owned or serviced any of those ATMs.  Rather, those ATMs were owned by an unrelated company with no affiliation with NAS.  The Commission also alleged that NAS often sold and leased back the same ATM to more than one investor.  Of the ATMs that NAS did service, those revenues were minimal and were dwarfed by the significant amount of new investor funds.  Those investor funds were used to pay returns to existing investors - a classic hallmark of a Ponzi scheme.  

Authorities alleged that NAS bounced over $3 million in checks to investors in August 2014, with investors told that a "glitch" in connection with retention of a new outside firm handling investor payments was to blame.

Authorities began investigating NAS shortly after the bounced checks, with court records in the SEC's case demonstrating that an application for a temporary injunction and other relief was filed on September 17, 2014.  Criminal charges were filed several months later, and the men pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of conspiracy, two counts of mail fraud, and one count of wire fraud.  

A receiver, William Hoffman, was appointed at the request of the SEC, and a website has been established at for interested parties.  

Oddly enough, multiple Ponzi schemes centered around promised riches from ATM leasing or rentals have popped up in the past few years, including herehere, and here.