Man who had jail sentence commuted by Trump arrested again

Trump commuted Eliyahu Weinstein's sentence in 2021.

July 19, 2023, 4:50 PM

A New Jersey Ponzi scheme architect, whose 24-year prison sentence was commuted by then-President Donald Trump in 2021, has been arrested again Wednesday on charges he defrauded investors by making false promises involving humanitarian supplies destined for Ukraine.

Eliyahu Weinstein and four other men were charged with conspiring to defraud 150 individual investors of more than $35 million and with conspiracy to obstruct justice, according to federal prosecutors in New Jersey.

"This is now the third time this office has charged Weinstein with a large-scale scheme to rip off investors," U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger said during a news conference in Newark on Wednesday.

This time, Weinstein allegedly used a fake name and falsely promised access to deals involving scarce medical supplies, baby formula, and first-aid kits supposedly destined for wartime Ukraine, prosecutors said.

"These were brazen and sophisticated crimes that involved multiple coconspirators that can came from Weinstein's playbook of fraud," Sellinger said.

Weinstein was convicted twice in New Jersey federal court for defrauding investors. His first case involved a real estate Ponzi scheme, and his second case stemmed from additional fraud Weinstein committed while on pretrial release. Those crimes resulted in combined losses to investors of $230 million, prosecutors said. He was sentenced to serve 24 years in prison.

PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, July 7, 2023, in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, July 7, 2023, in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Charlie Riedel/AP, FILE

On Jan. 19, 2021, after Weinstein had served less than eight years, Trump commuted Weinstein's term to time served.

Soon after his release from prison, Weinstein allegedly began orchestrating a new scheme to solicit money from investors through a company called Optimus Investments Inc., according to the criminal complaint.

Weinstein ran Optimus while using a fake name, "Mike Konig," keeping his true name and identity hidden because, as Weinstein acknowledged in a secretly recorded conversation, investors wouldn't give them "a penny" if they learned of Weinstein's involvement, the complaint said.

Weinstein joins a growing list of people who secured clemency from former President Donald Trump and have since faced additional legal scrutiny, as ABC News reported earlier this year.

At the time, ABC News reviewed the 238 people who were pardoned or had their sentences commuted during the Trump administration and found at least ten who were back under investigation, charged with a crime, or already convicted.

Legal experts called this recurring theme unprecedented -- but not entirely unexpected, given the former president's unorthodox approach to the pardon process.

"President Trump bypassed the formal and orderly Justice Department process in favor of an informal and fairly chaotic White House operation, relying in some cases on his personal views and in others on recommendations from people he knew or who gained access to him in various ways," said Margaret Love, a lawyer who represents clients seeking pardons and a former U.S. Pardon Attorney, a Justice Department appointee who helps advise presidents on grants of clemency.

"So, it might have been predicted," Love said at the time, "that some who made it through that lax gauntlet were going to get in trouble again."

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