Report: From the American Hustle to Irish sub prime loans

AMERICAN HUSTLE had all the hallmarks of a hit even before the results of last night’s Golden Globes.

It had a lot: A-list cast of Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, and Bradley Cooper reinventing the story behind one of the most theatrical stings in FBI history.

Director David O Russell crafted the film around a fictional take on the Abscam affair — a real-life honey trap that rooted out political corruption in the late 1970s.

The bribery caught on camera by the FBI scandalised America and remains a lingering window into the grubby world of high-level corruption.

American Hustle , and the crimes that inspired it, are uniquely American stories: Congressmen bribed via con men in the belief that an Arab businessman would pay silly money for a visa. Worse, it was all caught on camera by agents authorised to engage in entrapment.

But, because of the international movement of money, it has a connection with Ireland through the lives of those who borrowed from one of this country’s most talked about subprime lenders — Ronald Weisz.

His father, and financial backer, is Stanley Weisz, a key player in the original Abscam affair.

As a successful Long Island accountant, Weisz Sr amassed a cash pile through various enterprises.

In the last 18 years, part of this reserve has been channelled to Irish subprime borrowers through the business his son runs from a holiday ranch in Leitrim.

Both men have had their troubles with the law. But Weisz Sr’s was the most famous.

He was eventually jailed after the FBI filmed his associate paying a Florida congressman, Richard Kelly, for a favour.

During the sting Weisz Sr had been promised $50,000 by a stock investment conman to set up a corruption deal.

In 1979, this conman was secretly working for the FBI and approached Weisz. The two men had been passing business associates at various stages since 1962.

Weisz agreed and organised a deal through a friend in Florida with known criminal ties. It all ended with congressman Kelly stuffing $25,000 into his pockets because he never brought a briefcase as he was about to receive the first installment of his bribe.

During the trial, an FBI agent testified Weisz boasted about bringing people together to be corrupted. Weisz denied this.

He said he would not accept $50m if he thought it was illegal.

A US Senate committee report said Weisz was approached because he was believed to have organised crime ties. This report said he initially offered to help the FBI insiders launder money by helping to produce false gold certificates.

The jury said he did set up the deal with his co-conspirator in Florida, Eugene Gino Ciuzio, a former trucker who was described as a bodyguard from a crime boss at the time, Paul Sciacca.

Ciuzio had been linked with other crime families in Florida and New York. He was introduced to the congressman through a friend of his who was accused of running a cocaine racket from Bolivia.

In court, Weisz was asked how he knew such a character as Ciuzio.

A Newsday court report noted that, in the witness box, he shrugged and said “he is friends with some of my clients”.

In 1983, an appeal court ruling, that went against the pair and upheld their sentences, laid out their relationship in more detail.

“Weisz first met Ciuzio in 1960 when Ciuzio was involved in providing trucking services for a number of Weisz’s clients in New York.

“Thereafter Weisz performed accounting work for Ciuzio for a number of years. When Ciuzio moved from New York to Florida, Weisz continued to advise Ciuzio on various transactions.

“In return, Ciuzio referred individuals in need of an accountant to Weisz,” it said.

Besides Ciuzio’s links Weisz was also suspected of criminal associations by the FBI.

Official briefing notes, now available from the FBI archives, show that Weisz Sr was on the bureau’s radar before Abscam.

“Weisz is a Long Island accountant with organised crime ties. In particular, he has ties with John Del Mastro of Suffolk County, NY, a known member of the Luchese family,” one guidance note said.

The Luchese family is one of the five big networks that form the New York mafia.

When this was put to Ronald Weisz this year, he contacted his father and they denied any connection with the mafia or that there was any truth to the FBI’s notes.

He said such a suggestion was defamatory.

Neither the jail sentence nor the FBI’s suspicions prevented Weisz from growing his business.

When Weisz was released from prison, he still had lots of money waiting for him.

That reserve was used to build a large subprime lending operation in America from a base in Suffolk County, Long Island, that has charged interest rates of 26%.

What is less obvious is that during the last 18 years part of this fund has also been leant out to farmers, home buyers and small businesses in Ireland by his son Ronald Weisz.

These loans have also been at high interests rates through two linked subprime lending companies.

Since the early 1990s the Stanley Weisz PC Pension Plan, a fund managed by the father and son as trustees, has provided more than €5.7m to fund the growth in the most active of the companies — [url=]Secured Property Loans Ltd.

More recently, Weisz Sr has also loaned SPLL €210,531 through another of his New York lending firms, Wheatley Harbor LLC.

Before that, Weisz Jr had set up the Wise Finance Company Ltd in England, which was used to lend money to Irish customers.

This firm received £1m in share purchases from the Stanley Weisz PC pension plan, which was transferred 16 minutes later into Weisz Jr’s name. The SWPC fund gave it another £500,000 through a mortgage which has still to be fully satisfied.

These moves have made the Stanley Weisz PC Pension Plan by far the single biggest funder of Weisz Jr’s operations in Ireland.

He has been supported by his father in other ways too. When Weisz Jr was convicted of fraud in New York in the mid-1990s, his father posted his bail after he surrendered himself at JFK airport.

In 2010, all of the loans that SPLL owed to the Stanley Weisz PC Pension Plan were cancelled and converted into a loan due directly to Ronald Weisz.

The Irish Examiner has established that Weisz Jr has used these to place a charge over the assets of the company and move loans into his own name.

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