A Florida man who defrauded investors of an estimated $175 million, including municipalities and school districts, was arrested by federal authorities on Jan. 6, attempting to flee the country to avoid incarceration.
According to authorities, Nikesh Patel of Orlando was headed to Cuenca, Ecuador, where he owns a condominium and is a part-time resident in the city’s large North American expatriate community.
Patel pleaded guilty in federal court in 2016 to five counts of wire fraud connected to a scheme in which his company, First Farmers Financial, sold tens of millions of dollars in fraudulent loans to investors.
Residents of Oak Park, Illinois, near Chicago, first became aware of the fraud scheme in 2014, when Village Manager Cara Pavlicek told the Oak Park Board of Trustees that the village had lost more than $600,000 due to its participation in the Illinois Metropolitan Investment Fund (IMET), which invested over $50 million in First Farmers loans on behalf of approximately 300 Illinois governmental agencies.
Oak Park Chief Financial Officer Steven Drazner told Wednesday Journal in a telephone interview that the village lost about $612,000 in the IMET investment. Drazner said the village has been reimbursed about $30,000, so far.
Other losses from area government entities include: Oak Park School District 97, $716,859; District 90, $205,000; District 91, $199,412; and the village of River Forest, $145,447. Neither District 200 nor the village of Forest Park invested in the IMET fund.
Of the area entities that lost money in the IMET investment, the villages of Oak Park and River Forest were the only two to report having received partial reimbursement. River Forest Village Administrator Eric Palm said the village has recovered $7,235.
Patel was scheduled to appear before U.S. District Court Judge Charles P. Kocoras on Jan. 9 for sentencing.
But Patel, who faces years in prison, instead attempted to flee to Ecuador, according to court documents.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Illinois district court, FBI agents in Orlando observed Patel and a companion enter Kissimmee Gateway Airport, in Kissimmee, Florida, about 7 p.m. on Jan. 6.
Agents spoke with Patel, who told them he was attempting to travel to Ecuador because he had been granted political asylum in the country.
“Patel stated that approximately two months earlier, he obtained a passport from a friend in India,” the criminal complaint states. “Agents recovered a passport that appeared to be issued by the government of India, bearing Patel’s name, photograph, and date of birth.”
Patel has been active in Florida civic and social circles for several years. He was a major contributor to the campaigns of Florida Governor Rick Scott.
A the time of his arrest, Patel told agents he had paid his traveling companion $40,000 for a private flight to Cuenca where he claims to own two bars and a restaurant.
Sources: Miami Herald, Wednesday Journal, Orlando Sentinel