The Wilson the FBI really wants – Michael, the young, savvy investor who’s accused of living the good life at other people’s expense – is still a fugitive living in Canada.
But his younger brother was in federal court in Buffalo on Thursday confronting the allegations that he, too, played a role in a scheme to cheat investors out of $8 million.
William W. Wilson, 23, a student at Ohio State University, admitted helping his brother Michael commit one of his crimes as part of a misdemeanor plea deal that also requires him to cooperate in the prosecution of his brother.
“He’s a good young man who got in trouble because of his family,” Edward C. Cosgrove, Wilson’s defense lawyer, said in court Thursday.
Michael H. Wilson arrived with fanfare in 2008 when the 22-year-old Cleveland businessman made what was then Erie County’s most expensive residential purchase ever – $6.3 million for two homes in Hamburg.
Unfortunately for Wilson, he also caught the attention of the FBI and federal prosecutors, who eventually charged him with stealing $8 million from investors.
Two years later, Michael Wilson has yet to step foot in court, and Cosgrove confirmed that he’s living in Canada, where he reportedly has dual citizenship.
“He’s still a fugitive,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph M. Guerra III said Thursday when asked about the elder Wilson.
From Day One, Wilson’s younger brother, who was charged as a relatively small figure in the scam, has never run from the charges against him.
Cosgrove is not the first lawyer to suggest that William Wilson suffered because of his brother’s fugitive status. He also is not the first to suggest that Michael, not William, was the ringleader.
“I did my own investigation,” Cosgrove said.
“I know what Michael did, and I know what little William did.”
Cosgrove said William Wilson’s involvement was limited to making a few telephone calls to ensure that $71,000 was transferred from one bank account to another.
A federal indictment in late 2010 charged Michael Wilson with running an investment firm that engaged in fraud and money-laundering and that bilked investors out of $8 million over a 12-month period.
Unlike a lot of scams, this one targeted wealthy, sophisticated investors by offering high returns on complex investments, according to court papers.
What he did instead, prosecutors contend, was use the money to buy a home, cars and other personal items.
The public spotlight began to shine on Michael Wilson in July 2009, when The Buffalo News reported that federal agents had searched his two separate but adjoining properties on Boston State Road in Hamburg.
Authorities say Wilson, who moved from Cleveland, put down $2.5 million on the properties but never made any other payments. The 126-acre estate, which includes two houses, ponds and wooded areas, was later taken away from him, as were three automobiles – a Hummer, a Corvette and a Mercedes-Benz.
A federal judge also ordered the forfeiture of seven flat-screen televisions and 15 paintings and sculptures. They included two works by renowned artists Frank DiVita and Michael Flohr valued at $23,000.
The case against Michael Wilson includes allegations that he was so shadowy that some investors didn’t know his real name. He often went by the name of “George Possiodis,” according to court papers.
He also is accused of using 12 separate companies, including one called Phantom Holdings, to run his investment schemes.
The charges are the result of a lengthy probe by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division.