One of the men behind a $5.8 million Ponzi scheme is facing new charges of trying to influence U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. just a few weeks before his federal court sentencing.
Federal agents arrested James F. Lagona on Thursday and accused him of “corruptly influencing, obstructing and impeding” the administration of justice.
Lagona, who was found guilty of conspiracy and fraud after a jury trial last year, is now facing allegations that he tried to use political influence, possibly through Hochul’s wife, Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, or other local political leaders, to alter his upcoming sentence.
“He’s looking at significant prison time in the other case so he’s clearly worried about that,” James DeMatteo, one of Lagona’s defense lawyers, said Friday.
Neither of the Hochuls would comment on the allegations against Lagona, who remains in federal custody while two federal judges decide his fate.
One of the judges, Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny, is handling Lagona’s fraud case, while U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott is overseeing Lagona’s federal detention.
Federal prosecutors maintain Lagona is a flight risk because of the potential for prison time as part of his upcoming sentence.
J.P. Cooney, a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., appeared on the government’s behalf Friday but declined to comment on the case. Cooney was brought in because of Hochul’s involvement in the case.
DeMatteo said he is still investigating the allegations against Lagona but indicted they do not involve any type of monetary bribe. He also confirmed the possible existence of an audio tape of a conversation involving Lagona.
Lagona, a self-described Christian mystic, psychic, exorcist and bishop with the Western Rite Orthodox Catholic Church, is perhaps best known for his role in running an Amherst-based Ponzi scheme that cheated 90 victims, many of them retirees.
He and fellow defendant Ian Campbell Gent were convicted of fraud after a two-week trial last year and now face up to 20 years in prison.
During the trial, he and Gent argued that they too were victims and both denied knowingly helping Guy Gane and his company, Watermark Financial Services of Amherst.
Gane, whom many believe was the mastermind behind the scheme, eventually pleaded guilty to fraud and money-laundering charges and agreed to testify against Lagona and Gent. Gane was sentenced to 13 years in prison last year.
Prosecutors say Gane cheated customers of Watermark Financial Services by telling them he was investing their money in valuable waterfront real estate in Maine.