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Fla. Stock Manipulator Sentenced

February 8, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ A stock manipulator with a history of securities fraud and an earlier jail stint was sent to prison for five years and 11 months Monday by a judge who said he ``ran afoul of the law and learned nothing from it.″

U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand rejected appeals for sympathy from Joseph Pignatiello, 54. The Coral Springs, Fla., man was taken into custody by U.S. marshals to immediately begin his sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Coleman had described Pignatiello as a risk of flight, noting that he had obtained permission to travel to Cuba by boat. Coleman said Pignatiello had been imprisoned, fined, censured and still ``continued securities fraud in ever more criminal and sophisticated ways.″

The judge said Pignatiello deserved a stiff sentence for his July 15 conviction by a jury on charges of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, wire fraud and commercial bribery. He called him a ``sophisticated, experienced manipulator of stocks.″

The judge said he regularly hears from defendants who commit crimes because they think they lack education and opportunity and have no other way to get ahead.

But he said Pignatiello was a ``sophisticated person with opportunities who ran afoul of the law and learned nothing from it.″

The criminal case was brought by federal prosecutors but Pignatiello had been watched closely by the Securities and Exchange Commission for the last 20 years, Sand noted.

The judge read from an SEC letter that said Pignatiello, even while serving a two-year sentence in an earlier case, ``has engaged in continuing schemes to manipulate the public securities markets and reap windfall profits at the expense of innocent investors in low-priced stocks.″

``By his actions, Pignatiello has demonstrated that he has been, and continues to be, a creator and facilitator of frauds that have caused millions of dollars of losses for innocent investors,″ the SEC wrote.

Monday’s sentencing resulted from Pignatiello’s conviction in a case in which FBI agents posed as corrupt brokers willing to accept bribes for selling stock to their customers.

Pignatiello and two others were charged with conspiring to manipulate the price of a common stock, Spaceplex Amusement Centers International, from October 1995 through May 1996. One accomplice has been sentenced to three years and one month in prison while a second is awaiting sentencing.

Before he was sentenced Monday, Pignatiello apologized to the court and his family, including four children seated behind him.

``I’ve taught my children to know right from wrong,″ he said. ``My problem is that I didn’t heed the voice of those discussions.″

``I throw myself on the mercy of the court,″ he said. ``Look in your eyes and look in your heart for compassion.″

Sand said he could not overlook Pignatiello’s prior history.

``Mr. Pignatiello one time was leading a very high life and now is bankrupt,″ he said. ``I’m sorry for the family but this court sends to prison mothers with infant children, defendants with unfortunate children highly dependent on defendants for their quality of life.″

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