Montecito resident Efstratios “Elias” Argyropoulos was sentenced Monday in federal court to serve three years behind bars for orchestrating a five-year investment fraud scheme — running 2010-2015 — that federal authorities say bilked 130 people out of $3.4 million. In addition, federal judge George Wu ordered Argyropoulos to pay the $3.4 million back.
As president and sole shareholder of Prima Ventures, a financial services firm, Argyropoulos, now 73, fleeced his victims by offering them the opportunity to invest in companies like Facebook, Twitter, Etsy, Alibaba, and e-Waste before they went public, despite him having no ability to do so. Argyropoulos was active in the Greek Orthodox Church and represented himself as a big-hearted entrepreneurial guru involved in such organizations as Paralyzed Veterans of America and the American Heart Association.
Argyropoulos got into hot water five years ago with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), which investigated his fraudulent behavior and filed civil action against him. After that, the FBI followed suit and initiated the criminal investigation, which led to Argyropoulos pleading guilty to wire fraud last year. According to the Department of Justice, Argyropoulos diverted investor funds into other uses, such as day-trading in stocks, gambling, buying cars, and paying for insurance bills and legal expenses arising from the SEC action against him.
Argyropoulos will serve his time, but he’s scheduled to surrender early next year. Attorneys for Argyropoulos argued for “compassionate release,” noting that their client had no history of violent behavior or any addiction issues. They argued his life history and “good character warrant a non-custodial sentence.”
Argyropoulos, they added, was born in Greece right after World War II, during which time the Nazis destroyed his father’s business. He moved to the United States in the 1970s and raised three kids, all of whom graduated from college as he emerged as a successful stockbroker.
Although in remission, they added, their client has been diagnosed with cancer. Because of that — coupled with the high number of COVID-related deaths taking place in federal prisons — they argued that time behind bars “would likely be a death sentence.”
Argyropoulos, they added, had acknowledged not investing investors’ funds as he claimed and “regrettably” spending the proceeds on basic expenses, day trading, and gambling. Argyropoulos, they insisted, had learned his lessons and “does not need additional incarceration to learn the severity of his crime.”
Federal prosecutors insisted on some prison time — though far less than the 20-year maximum the law allows. For all Argyropoulos’s alleged contrition, they noted that he continued to prey on the generosity of softhearted suckers even after a federal judge barred him from representing himself as a stockbroker in 2015.
In 2016, it turns out, Argyropoulos actively solicited members of his church to invest in a fraudulent scheme involving a fictitious trust-fund heiress, whom he claimed needed help paying her medical bills. He claimed her trust was worth $1 billion and that investors would reap huge rewards once the estate was settled. “In truth, there was no heiress,” the prosecutors reported, “no trust, and no funds to be distributed to investors.”
This story was updated on September 1 to add more details of the case.