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Crime & Courts

One-time 'Millionaire Matchmaker' sentenced to 8 years for fraud

Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 12:14 AM

Once a pretend multimillionaire, Michael Prozer will spend the next eight-plus years in a federal prison cell for fraud.

The former contestant for Bravo television's "Millionaire Matchmaker" who posed on the show as an entrepreneur looking for a life partner to share his riches was sentenced Thursday to eight years and six months in prison for seven federal crimes, including conspiracy, and wire, bank and mail fraud.

After more than a year of proclaiming his innocence, Prozer admitted to swindling a now-defunct Georgia bank, Park Avenue Bank, out of a $3 million loan that he never repaid. Among other things, Prozer paid his codefendant, Wachovia Bank financial analyst Fedor Stanley Salinas, $25,000 to falsify a document claiming he had $20 million on deposit that could be used as collateral.

"I do take responsibility for what had happened," Prozer said Thursday at his sentencing hearing. He apologized to government agents for having to take their time on his case when there were more important matters for them to investigate.

"I've done a lot of good things," he said. "This case makes it look like I'm a horrible person."

Prozer said he wanted most to pay the nearly $3 million in restitution and then move on with his life to be a father to his sons.

When Prozer appeared on the reality television show, he claimed to be worth "modestly" $400 million as the creator of a company that facilitated Internet credit payments in South America, kind of a Latin PayPal.

He showed off a private jet and a sprawling mansion, but it now appears those things were facades propped up by money he'd swindled and people he'd conned.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney said Thursday that Prozer had a pattern of bilking investors. Had the case gone to trial, she said, the prosecution would have presented evidence of a Tampa area resident, Morris Rendahl, who was shown a false letter of credit backed by Salinas and then invested a large amount of money with Prozer. Rehdahl was ultimately repaid with the proceeds of the Park Avenue Bank loan.

"That's a pattern we saw again, and again and again," said Sweeney, who said Prozer's company, Xchange Agent, "never made any money, never had any credit."

But people invested, she added, because, "Everybody trusted Mr. Prozer. He was very good at putting on a façade that he was wealthy."

Prozer's taxpayer-provided lawyer, Stephen Leal, argued that the amount of the fraud could have been minimized, but for the "base greed" of some of the victims.

Sweeney responded that Prozer was responsible for what happened. "Every lie in this case originates with Mr. Prozer," she said. "To say that people are greedy because they rely on what Mr. Prozer tells them I think is completely inappropriate."

Sweeney said Prozer originally applied for an $18 million loan from Park Avenue Bank, but reduced the amount because he wanted the money "as fast as possible."

Whenever people got close to stopping the fraud, Sweeney said, Prozer would do something to divert them. At one point, she said, he hired a lawyer and threatened to sue someone for interfering with his business.

Sweeney asked U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington to impose the maximum sentence under federal guidelines – nine years. But the judge gave Prozer six months credit because by pleading guilty, he persuaded Salinas to do the same.

Covington sentenced Salinas to 27 months in federal prison, but said the greater price he will pay is the fact that he will be deported to El Salvador, and will therefore lose his wife and child and have to live in a country where he knows no one.

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7837