Penny-Stock Scammer Pleads Guilty to Fraud Hatched in Prison

(Bloomberg) -- A penny-stock swindler pleaded guilty to a $15 million scam prosecutors say he launched while still serving a 10-year prison sentence on an earlier fraud.

Edward Durante, 64, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a plot in which he used a network of unwitting brokers and investment advisers to sell shares in an online sweepstakes company called VGTel Inc. More than 100 victims were told that the shares, which Durante secretly controlled, would rise from $1 to as high as $50. The investors believed they were buying stock from the issuer, rather than from entities set up by Durante.

Durante began the scheme in 2009, while he was still in prison for the earlier scam, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Griswold told U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck in a hearing in Manhattan federal court. The new fraud ran until March 2015.

Durante, gray-haired and dressed in blue prison fatigues, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, securities fraud, money laundering and perjury. He had been extradited from Germany to the U.S. in 2015. Under an agreement with prosecutors, Durante faces more than 24 years in prison under non-binding federal sentencing guidelines. He also agreed to forfeit more than $15 million.

Durante was convicted in 2001 of a market manipulation scheme and ordered to pay back $39 million.

The case is U.S. v. Durante, 15-cr-00171, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).