An Indian American man from Florida who pleaded guilty in Chicago to a giant real estate investment fraud to the tune of $179 million was arrested Jan. 6 attempting to flee the country for Ecuador just days before he was to be sentenced.
Nikesh Patel, 33, who was free on bond pending his sentence, was confronted by FBI agents monitoring him as he attempted to board a private jet around 7 a.m. Jan. 6 at the Kissimee Gateway Airport in Florida, according to a criminal complaint filed Jan. 8, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Patel told the agents he was planning to board a chartered flight to Ecuador where he had been "granted political asylum," according to the complaint. Additionally, Patel said he paid his travel companion — identified only as "K.T." — $40,000 to arrange the trip, the report said.
Patel was arrested and appeared Jan. 8 before a federal magistrate judge in Orlando who ordered him held without bond before his transfer to Chicago, court records show, the Tribune reported.
Patel, of Windermere, Fla., pleaded guilty in 2016 to five counts of wire fraud, admitting in a plea agreement with prosecutors that he sold tens of millions of dollars in fraudulent loans to an investment firm in Wisconsin and spent the cash to live a lavish lifestyle and buy hotels, the report said.
He was scheduled to be sentenced in Chicago Jan. 9 by U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras. He now faces a new charge of flight to avoid prosecution.
As CEO of the Florida-based First Farmers Financial LLC, Patel orchestrated the sale of 26 sham loans to Milwaukee investment firm Pennant Management for $179 million, according to the charges, the publication said.
As part of the scheme, Patel submitted false documents to Pennant showing a portion of the loans were guaranteed by the federal government under a program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it said.
However, there was no actual borrower to any of the loans, no pre-existing loan and no government guarantee, the charges alleged.
From that fraud, others were affected, including the Illinois Metropolitan Investment Fund, a west suburban investment fund popular with local governments and school and park districts. The firm lost more than $50 million in funds it had invested with Pennant, according to the report.
In all, more than 200 Chicago-area municipalities, school districts, park districts and other public entities, including River Forest District 90, Oak Park District 97, the villages of Oak Park and River Forest, were exposed to the alleged fraud because they invested tax dollars with IMET, the Tribune reported.
A court-appointed receiver oversaw the seizure and sale of real estate and other assets in Patel’s portfolio, allowing investors to recoup at least some of the losses, court records show, according to the publication.
Last year, Oak Brook-based IMET informed its investors that it hoped to recover about an estimated 47.6 percent — or $24 million — of its losses in the scheme, the Tribune reported.
In seeking leniency, Patel’s attorney wrote in a court filing recently that Patel “recognizes the wrong he has done” and that he has “worked extremely hard to take responsibility for his conduct,” including assisting the receiver in recovering about $86 million for victims, the publication said.
His Jan. 6 arrest was not his first run-in with the law while awaiting sentencing.
In April, according to the report, Patel was arrested in Panama City, Fla., and charged with driving under the influence and possession of a suspended driver's license.