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Financial adviser to celebrities charged in $30 million Ponzi scheme

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Kenneth Starr accused of abusing access to famous and powerful clients
  • He is accused of using clients' money for fake investments
  • He also is accused of taking $6 million from nearly 100-year-old client
  • Andrew Stein, former president of New York City Council, also arrested in case

New York (CNN) -- A financial adviser to celebrities was arrested on Thursday on charges he carried out a $30 million Ponzi scheme on some of his clients, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

Kenneth Starr, 66, was charged with money laundering, investment adviser fraud and wire fraud. He was ordered held without bail until a June 10 pretrial hearing despite a vigorous appeal to the federal Magistrate Court by both Starr and his attorney.

Attorney Josh Klein argued that his client was terrified when federal agents came to arrest him early Thursday morning, portraying Starr as a family man who had strong New York ties and did not pose a flight risk.

But prosecutors painted a different picture, telling the court that Starr attempted to evade arrest by hiding from federal agents. Prosecutors say Starr's wife told agents he wasn't home and when they encountered his 12-year-old son at the top of the stairs, he, too, said his father was not home. But, prosecutors said, the agents found Starr "cowering in a closet."

Andrew Stein, the former president of the New York City Council who was alleged to have been a recipient of some of Starr's schemes, was also arrested Thursday morning. He was charged with making false statements to the Internal Revenue Service and federal officers. Stein was released on a $250,000 co-signed bond and ordered back to court June 28.

Starr, an attorney, is head of New York-based Starr and Co. and Starr Investment Advisors LLC, an asset management and financial planning company for high net-worth and celebrity clients.

"He [Starr] used his access to famous and powerful clients to burnish an image of trustworthiness, inducing them to entrust him with management and control of their financial affairs," said Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, at a news conference.

"In some cases, he assumed total control over his clients' financial lives by collecting their earnings, investing their savings and even paying their bills. But as we allege, much of it was a mirage," he said.

The government alleges that Starr used two main schemes to defraud his clients. In one scheme, he solicited money "to invest in what he purported to be sure deals" but diverted all or some of the money to himself or to other investments in which he, his wife and/or close associates held financial interests.

In the second scheme, Starr used direct control over his clients' assets to transfer funds to himself, his family and/or associates, then transferred money from one client to another when a client requested a payment Starr could not meet, prosecutors said.

According to the complaint, Starr defrauded a wealthy jeweler and his wife of nearly $14 million in either bogus or high risk investments. Almost all of that $14 million remains unaccounted for.

The complaint says Starr used nearly $6 million of a nearly 100-year-old heiress' money, without authorization, to buy a $7.5 million condominium for himself.

Prosecutors also allege that Starr transferred $1 million from the account of "an actress with whom he had a long-standing and close relationship" to another associate. When the actress noticed the transfer and inquired about it, he provided inconsistent answers and eventually returned the money to her account -- but from the account of another client, a former talent agency executive and his wife.

The complaint did not name the victims of Starr's alleged schemes.

Investigators said Stein, 65, owed more than $2 million in taxes and that he allegedly lied to the IRS about assets he had moved and hidden from scrutiny.

"Andrew Stein, a once prominent figure in New York politics, allegedly took steps to shield his income expenditures from scrutiny," said IRS agent Patty Haynes.

The arrests come nearly a year after Bernard Madoff was convicted of conducting the largest Ponzi scheme in history, defrauding investors out of $50 billion.

"Anyone can be a victim of financial fraud. Whether you are an ordinary citizen or a savvy businessman or a sophisticated celebrity, you can be victimized," Bharara warned.

He added, "If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and if someone is pretending to have the Midas touch, he's probably just selling you fool's gold."

CNN's Kiran Khalid and Brian Vitagliano contributed to this report.