California man pleads guilty in Florida to $1.3B fraud scam

A 61-year-old Sherman Oaks man has pleaded guilty in Florida to orchestrating a $1.3 billion real estate fraud scheme that stole money from thousands of investors nationwide and agreed to forfeit valuable jewelry, wine and paintings by artists such as Picasso and Renoir.

Court records show Robert Shapiro pleaded guilty in Miami federal court to mail and wire fraud and tax evasion. He faces up to 25 years in prison at sentencing in October.

Miami federal prosecutors say at least 9,000 people, many of them elderly who invested their retirement savings, suffered losses in the scheme.

Prosecutors say Shapiro's Woodbridge Group had offices employing 130 people in California, Florida, Tennessee, Colorado and Connecticut. The pitch to investors was that Woodbridge held real estate loans that would pay them rates of interest between 5% and 10%.

In fact, the real estate was also owned by Shapiro through 270 shell companies and didn’t generate the necessary money for investors. Sometimes, the properties didn't even exist.

Dawn Kamber