'Millionaire' contestant pleads guilty to fraud
TAMPA - A former reality TV contestant who said on national television that he was worth $400 million admitted before a judge Monday that he is guilty of fraud. Michael Prozer was about to go on trial on federal fraud charges, but after a jury was selected and just before lawyers gave their opening statements, Prozer and his codefendant, Fedor Stanley Salinas, pleaded guilty to the charges, which carry up to 30 years in prison. The guilty pleas — entered without plea bargains — short-circuited a trial that was to have featured a presentation of Prozer's audition tape for "Millionaire Matchmaker," a Bravo television show in which purported rich people are set up on dates. In the year since Prozer was first indicted, he has vociferously proclaimed his innocence, irritating judges along the way by delaying proceedings while he claimed he was making financial arrangements to hire high-profile attorney Todd Foster.The finances never materialized, and Prozer was given a taxpayer-funded, court-appointed lawyer. He was jailed after a judge revoked his bail when he lied about an attempt to buy two luxury cars under the corporate name, GFYS Consolidated Holdings, an acronym for "Go F--- Yourself." Prozer told a Tampa Tribune reporter last year that she would be embarrassed when the full story was revealed. "Nothing about the indictment expresses the truth," he said then. On Monday, a different Prozer pleaded guilty. Speaking in a quiet voice, the bespectacled defendant admitted paying Salinas $25,000 to make it appear he had $21 million at Wachovia bank. Salinas, a Maryland-based financial analyst for Wachovia, sent documents to another bank, Park Avenue Bank in Georgia, purporting to show the large balance at Wachovia to secure a $3 million loan at Park Avenue, which was never repaid.According to a letter Salinas sent to Park Avenue Bank, Wachovia had a policy of putting a hold on such large deposits when they came from foreign sources. Such a policy didn't exist. The account in question had been closed by Wachovia because of unusual activity before the Park Avenue transaction, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney, who said Prozer never had a balance anywhere near $21 million in the account. In entering his plea, Prozer told U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez-Covington that he has a 12th-grade education. Prozer specifically pleaded guilty to seven charges — three counts of wire fraud and one count each of mail fraud, bank fraud, making a false statement to a financial institution and conspiracy to commit wire, bank and mail fraud. Salinas, a citizen of El Salvador, pleaded guilty to six charges — three counts of wire fraud and one count each of mail fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy to commit wire, bank and mail fraud. Each count carries a maximum of 30 years in federal prison and a $1 million fine. Sentencing guidelines will likely be calculated to recommend a lower sentence. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley told the judge his office intends to seek a sentence at the higher end of the suggested range, and possibly even more time. Also, Prozer could be ordered to pay $3 million in restitution to the now-defunct Park Avenue Bank and also be ordered to forfeit another $3 million. Both defendants are scheduled to be sentenced in August. Prozer appeared on "Millionaire Matchmaker" in April 2009, portraying himself as a successful online entrepreneur looking for a beautiful, dark-haired life partner who would mesh with his high-flying lifestyle and help him parent his two young sons. Prozer showed off what he said were his private plane and 33,000-square-foot mansion, all paid for, he said, with his earnings from his Internet company that facilitated credit payments for people in South America. The star of the show, matchmaker Patti Stanger, described Prozer as "trailer park trash." She pleaded with him to let her change his bowl haircut, put him in nice clothes or get a plastic surgeon to give him a chin implant. But Prozer said no, then showed up at a dating mixer wearing what Stanger described as a "hick outfit" looking like a "doofus clown." His date with "Elana" went spectacularly badly and will probably be most remembered for the fact that he urinated behind some bushes and then splashed his date with water while riding a Jet Ski.
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