Authorities nab fugitive accused of embezzling $10 million from Lebanon firm
|Published: 11-05-2023 2:53 AM
LEBANON — A Guatemalan man who was on the FBI’s most wanted list for allegedly embezzling an estimated $10 million from an Upper Valley investment firm was apprehended and arrested at the airport in Miami on Wednesday.
Roberto Montano, who was initially charged with wire fraud in 2014 after allegedly diverting investor’s money managed by Lebanon-based Global Forest Partners for his personal use, was ordered by a federal court judge in Miami to be returned to New Hampshire to face prosecution, according to court records.
Montano, 57, fled the U.S. nearly a decade ago as investigators were closing in. He had been on the run and living under different identities in Guatemala and Nicaragua until his capture at Miami International Airport on Wednesday, authorities said.
He is also wanted in Guatemala in connection with an alleged embezzlement scheme, according to federal law enforcement officials.
The Valley News first reported Montano’s alleged embezzlement of GFP in 2015, which shed a rare light on the low-profile firm with only 24 employees that manages billions of dollars in forest industry investments from an office building near Route 120 and Etna Road. GFP’s clients are private and public pension funds, foundations, endowments and other institutional investors.
“GFP is very pleased to see that Roberto Montano is now in custody,” Chris Warrington, a partner in GFP and member of the executive team, said via email to the Valley News on Friday.
“Two GFP-managed investments were the victims of a significant fraud committed by Mr. Montano nearly ten years ago,” Warrington said, noting the firm has “been fully supportive of the authorities’ efforts to prosecute the accused” and commended the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Hampshire and FBI “for bringing him into custody after he was at large for several years.”
Montano had a relationship with GFP going back to 2006, when GFP entered into an arrangement with Montano’s company to develop and manage teak plantations in Guatemala. During the course of the joint venture, GFP invested a total of $75 million to $80 million of its clients money into two separate teak projects, according to court documents.
The capital was to go toward purchasing land, supplies, equipment and labor needed to plant, maintain and harvest teak trees on the new plantations that were intended to supply wood to global markets. Teak is a hardwood used in everything from flooring to indoor and outdoor furniture to kitchen cabinetry to veneer and yacht decks.
But in 2014, GFP learned that the joint venture’s contractors in Guatamela were not being paid, and when the investment firm asked Montano what was going he, he admitted to the firm that he had been using the investor’s money to finance his personal business ventures, according to the affidavit prepared by the FBI agent investigating the case.
During a phone call which was recorded with GFP executives, Montano “characterized his conduct as ‘embezzlement’ and further acknowledged that he ‘cooked the books’ to hide his illicit transactions,” the affidavit said.
Montano explained to GFP that his own business investments had failed, which drove him to take more money out of the joint venture’s funds in the hope that he would succeed and enable him to pay back the money he had stolen.
According to prosecutors, Montano engaged in several different methods to take money out of the venture, including transferring the venture’s funds into accounts he personally controlled, diverting subsidies provided by the Guatemalan government to unidentified recipients, and mortgaging the venture’s assets to collateralize loans to himself.
As his alleged misdeeds unraveled, Montano pleaded with GFP not to report him to the authorities.
“He implored the GFP representatives not to seek criminal prosecution, acknowledging that what he did could result in a long prison sentence but also stating ‘there’s very little we can all bring out of this if I’m stuck in jail,’ ” the affidavit said.
Montano assured GFP executives that he would meet with them to provide more information about his alleged fraud but never showed up for the scheduled meeting and instead flew to Guatemala City, the government said.
If convicted of wire fraud, Montano faces a potential sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the amount stolen, whichever is greater.
Contact John Lippman at firstname.lastname@example.org.