A longtime Bronx tax preparer was charged Monday with 35 counts of fraud, grand larceny and money laundering, accused by state authorities of taking clients' money in Ponzi scheme that brought in more than $4.6 million.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Robert H. "Bob" Van Zandt in some cases took life savings, promising high rates of return on investments from 2008 through early 2011 though the money was used to pay previous investors or diverted to pay his own expenses. He ran the Van Zandt Agency for decades and began accepting investments from clients in 2007, making false promises about real estate projects, authorities said.
Van Zandt pleaded not guilty. State Supreme Court Justice Denis Boyle set bail at $500,000. Defense attorney Michael Bachner said it will be posted Tuesday.
"It is unconscionable that many hard-working people put their futures in the hands of this defendant only to see their financial security destroyed by greed," Schneiderman said. "Mr. Van Zandt stole his victims' life savings, and forced some of them to re-enter the workplace or rely on government assistance to survive, while others face foreclosure on their homes or bankruptcy."
The scheme targeted individuals from Van Zandt's tax preparation business with large sums of money available from retirement funds, savings, inheritances or settlements, according to the attorney general's office. Amounts ranged from $25,000 to almost $900,000.
Bachner said the investments that were the subject of the indictment were legitimate real estate investments that lost value when the market crashed in 2008.
"All of the investments that Mr. Van Zandt was involved with were done in good faith," Bachner said. "And Mr. Van Zandt will demonstrate that he himself was the victim of fraudulent conduct by individuals who worked for him who forged his name, who notarized documents fraudulently and who took advantage of him."