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'Millionaire' contestant admits financial fraud

TAMPA — Michael A. Prozer III appeared on Bravo television's The Millionaire Matchmaker in 2009 claiming he was worth $400 million and operated a company with business in 36 nations.

Unknown to viewers, the Tampa resident was something other than a millionaire date.

He was a fraud.

An indigent Prozer pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to bank fraud charges and acknowledged he obtained a $3 million loan in the months before his television appearance by pretending he had tens of millions of dollars stashed in two banks.

The surprise plea came in the afternoon after lawyers in the case spent the morning picking a jury in a trial that had been expected to last a week.

It was an open plea by Prozer, which means he has no agreement with prosecutors on a sentence. A judge scheduled his sentencing for Aug. 9. Statutory maximums on the seven charges to which he pleaded guilty are 30 years, though it is unlikely Prozer would be sentenced to anything close to that.

Prozer's court-appointed attorney, Stephen Leal, said pleading guilty "is something (Prozer's) been wrestling with for quite a while."

In the end, his client decided the risk of losing at trial was too great, Leal said.

Prozer, 36, will be in custody until sentencing. A judge last year revoked his bail after prosecutors accused him of trying to buy two luxury cars while awaiting trial.

Prosecutors said Prozer in 2008 began pursuing the loan with the now-shuttered Park Avenue Bank, based in Georgia, telling the bank he needed operating funds for his business, XchangeAgent. He described the company as processing electronic payments on the Internet.

Prozer, prosecutors said, enlisted the help of two co-conspirators. One worked at Wachovia and produced a fraudulent letter confirming to Park Avenue that Prozer had $21 million on deposit, which Prozer used as collateral on the $3 million loan.

Other bogus documents were produced for the loan, including bank statements and tax returns for 2006 and 2007. In fact, Prozer had not filed returns in those years.

In November 2008, Prozer met with a Park Avenue Bank official in the Caribbean. A co-conspirator impersonated a First Caribbean International Bank representative who verified that Prozer had $145 million on deposit there.

Also on Monday, Fedor Stanley Salinas, the former Wachovia employee whom prosecutors said helped Prozer in his scheme after he was paid $25,000, pleaded guilty to bank fraud charges and will be sentenced with Prozer in August.

A second co-conspirator has co-operated with authorities.

Prozer's appearance in April 2009 on Millionaire Matchmaker didn't go too well. His date thought he was a jerk.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

'Millionaire' contestant admits financial fraud 04/09/12 [Last modified: Monday, April 9, 2012 11:27pm]
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