New York-based Guyanese fleeces retirees US$9M
…pleads guilty, awaits sentencing
May 10, 2007
A former real-estate guru and New York-based Guyanese, who swindled up to US$9 million from retirees, state court workers and sheriff's employees, pleaded guilty last month to fraud and agreed to cooperate with authorities.
Aleem Hussain has admitted that he misled investors by promising federally insured returns of 14 percent to 30 percent while diverting funds to cover other expenses.
Hussain's plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Orlando spares him and the government the cost of a trial. His pledge to testify before any federal grand jury about others involved in his scheme could net him less than the 20 years recommended under sentencing guidelines.
Hussain, arrested in October at Atlanta 's airport while waiting to board an overseas flight, is the only person charged so far in the case.
Besides other victims, Hussain, 42, targeted about a dozen Orange County Sheriff's Office employees who invested at least $1 million with his Main Street USA Inc.
Hussain treated sheriff's employees to lunches and free resort-vacation stays. He also falsely promised to double their $100,000 investment in six months.
Despite two arrests by Orange deputies in the past five years for failing to pay child support, the Guyanese native projected himself as a successful businessman riding the booming real-estate market in 2005.
His main contact at the Sheriff's Office, Capt. Bernie Presha, was a retired agency spokesman and 29-year veteran who reported losing $350,000 to Hussain, according to bankruptcy court records.
In addition to Presha, Hussain hired Chief Deputy Bryan Margeson — who recently retired after overseeing the sheriff's investigative divisions — to give speeches to potential investors at Hussain's 18,100-square-foot office building outside Kissimmee. Hussain also named former narcotics Sgt. James Hanton as vice president of investor relations and employed Hanton's wife, retired sheriff's administrative assistant Kim Hanton, in his Clermont office.
Presha, Margeson and the Hantons did more than just work for Hussain; they also invested in his companies. Some Sheriff's Office employees lost $20,000 to $150,000 each, while other investors lost up to $420,000.
Observers say it was Hussain's close ties with law enforcement that gave him confidence to continue his crimes.
“From the people who he was hanging around with, he had stature,” said Undersheriff Malone Stewart, the agency's Number Two administrator who also heard the sales pitches at lunches with Presha and Hussain. “Unfortunately, they had been taken in.” The Sheriff's Office officials also influenced people outside the agency.
“That was the main reason for me getting into this whole mess,” said Alan Cayo, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who estimates he invested more than $300,000 in Hussain's real-estate deals. “I figured if it was good enough for the sheriff's deputies, it was good enough for me.”
Officials familiar with the investigation say Hussain was operating a typical Ponzi scam, named for a 1920s swindler who paid off early investors with money from new investors. Hussain was by most accounts an affable and successful businessman who earned the trust of even the most skeptical investors.
Those who know Hussain are not surprised by his money-making potential. “He's never a follower. He's always a leader,” said one acquaintance who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He can do anything he puts his mind to.”
Hussain is a permanent U.S. resident who speaks fluent English, Spanish and Portuguese. He moved to Central Florida in 1996 from New York City , and switched career paths from studying to be an orthopedic surgeon to real estate.
Since then, court records show, he held various jobs including marketing director at Hemisphere Tour & Travel on Major Boulevard , manager of a Dollar General Store in the Conway area, and time-share salesman with Island One Resorts on Sand Lake Road .
Founded in 2004 with a handful of employees, Main Street USA rode the Central Florida real-estate boom and grew to at least 180 employees. In an interview with a business publication, Hussain boasted that sales volume had exceeded $3 billion in 2005 and revenues had grown to $40 million. Earlier in 2006, however, signs surfaced that Hussain's business empire was about to crumble.
From March to August 2006, five lawsuits for breach of contract were filed against Main Street USA, including two by former investors.
Most investors were unaware of his pending lawsuits, but former company managers and employees said they were quitting after not being paid or falling out of favour with Hussain. Investors began complaining in the summer of 2006 about not receiving their interest payments, and by August, state and federal agents were investigating. A sentencing date has not been set.
Presha, the former sheriff's spokesman, said he worked just two months for Hussain before trouble began. He has a simple explanation: “We invest money, hoping to make money, but sometimes we lose.”