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Michael Giokas’ investment firm was small – about 40 clients – but rich enough to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new, surefire opportunity.
It was called Trinity Council and Giokas promised his clients it would return 8 to 9% a year.
On Wednesday, some of those same clients stood before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara and told him about the money they lost and the trusted adviser who stole it.
Afterward, Arcara sentenced the Clarence man to 52 months in prison.
“Mr. Giokas took everything from me,” said Bonnie Zimmerman, a retired teacher. “We victims will never get justice and never be made whole again.”
Giokas’s sentence stems from his guilty plea to a felony fraud charge and his admission that he cheated clients out of $1.4 million and used much of the money for personal expenses.
One of his victims, Gerald Sorrentino of Elma, now 79, told Arcara about the money he and his wife put aside for their grandchildren’s college education, money that is now gone.
“I worked many years to leave a legacy I could be proud of,” Sorrentino told Arcara. “How he could steal that money? That’s something I could never forgive him for.”
In court papers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul E. Bonanno noted that Giokas, during one six-week period in 2017, spent $190,000 to support his lavish lifestyle.
His personal expenses during that time included $11,115 for shopping and restaurants, $9,664 for travel and $151,728 in cash withdrawals. Giokas also owned a million-dollar home in Clarence and a $500,000 condominium in Ellicottville.
“He chose to steal from people he had known for years and who he knew were vulnerable,” Bonanno said Wednesday.
As part of a plea deal, the former owner of Giokas Wealth Advisors in Clarence admitted using a fake company, Trinity Council, as part of a scheme to solicit investments he knew were fraudulent.
He promised clients a return of 8 to 9% a year and created false promissory notes to convince them the investment was legitimate.
The scheme generated $857,000, including $450,000 from a single client. Of that, Giokas spent about $300,00 on personal expenses. The rest was seized by the FBI and eventually returned to the victims.
“I’m ashamed and I’m sorry for the pain I’ve caused these victims,” he said Wednesday. “I will work the rest of my life to make things right.”
Giokas also engaged in a second scheme, this one involving a demand for fees he didn’t earn from his clients. In his plea deal, he admitted cheating 10 clients out of $616,396 in excessive fees.
All told, he admitted stealing $1.4 million and, because of the money seized by the FBI, agreed to pay $916,000 in restitution.
“His remorse is genuine,” said defense attorney John E. Rogowski. “He clearly recognizes what he has done and wants to move forward to help his victims.”
Born in Greece, Giokas said he came here with his parents in 1969, became a U.S. citizen and spent all of his adult life as a financial adviser.
As he left the courtroom Wednesday, he walked up to Zimmerman and other victims in the gallery and again promised to make them whole, a pledge they dismissed out of hand.