The Los Angeles Times calls them “The Real Housewives of South Florida Ponzi Schemers” Among them is Victoria Meisner, whose husband, Michael, masterminded a $37-million plot that defrauded more than 260 investors. Her story is different from most of the other wives: Like her husband, she’s now a convicted felon. Victoria Meisner, 53, pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return, reporting $49,626 of total income in 2003. That year, she helped rack up more than $430,000 in personal expenses on a debit card belonging to her husband’s business. She was sentenced Friday to 18 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $345,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.
Victoria Meisner’s case highlights a question for authorities investigating Ponzi schemes: Should family members whose luxurious lifestyles were funded by dirty money face criminal charges? John Gillies, head of South Florida’s FBI office, has called the Meisner case “a cautionary tale to spouses that they cannot claim ignorance about their financial situation when they know better.” Defense lawyers who specialize in white-collar crime agree that just because a spouse or family member isn’t actively involved in a fraud, it doesn’t mean he or she is safe from prosecution. “Willful blindness in the criminal system is tantamount to actual knowledge if there are sufficient red flags to alert an individual that criminal activity is afoot,” said Sharon Kegerreis, a Miami attorney and former federal prosecutor.