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Teen Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy, Bank Fraud

Internet con artist Cole Bartiromo could be sent to prison for plotting to gamble with $400,000 from a Wells Fargo account.

March 10, 2004|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

A Mission Viejo teenager who gained notoriety two years ago as one of the nation's youngest suspected Internet con artists has pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and bank fraud charges.

Cole Bartiromo, 19, who in a January newspaper interview insisted he was innocent, pleaded guilty last week to bank fraud in a plot to defraud a Wells Fargo branch in Mission Viejo of $400,000. Two months ago, he called the charges groundless and described them as part of a government scheme to frame him.

According to the indictment, Bartiromo and two co-defendants tried to recruit a Wells Fargo employee to let him wire funds from a customer's account to an offshore bank and gamble with the money through a British sports book.

Bartiromo said he would return the money to the account, less his winnings, before the account's owner knew the money was missing, according to the indictment.

In addition, Bartiromo pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for collecting money from EBay bidders for nonexistent products. He auctioned cellular telephones and tire rims that he never intended to deliver, the plea agreement said.

Bartiromo is scheduled to be sentenced May 10. He could receive up to 35 years in federal prison.

Co-defendants Theo Liu, 20, of Mission Viejo and Oscar Godinez, 20, of Lake Forest have pleaded not guilty to charges related to the EBay scheme and attempted bank fraud.

Bartiromo's first brush with federal law enforcement authorities was in 2002, when the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint over his "Invest Better 2001" online betting company.

The SEC also cited Bartiromo, then a Trabuco Hills High School senior, over a scheme in which the agency said he bought shares in penny-stock companies through his father's online account, flooded investor chat rooms with e-mail rumors about pending takeovers and then cashed out when the stock prices rose.

Last year, Bartiromo paid more than $1.2 million from his gains to settle the Internet-fraud complaints.

In May, Bartiromo sued his former high school in federal court, alleging that Trabuco Hills High School administrators labeled him an embarrassment and subsequently booted him off the school's varsity baseball team.

Acting as his own attorney, Bartiromo, filed a $50-million civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana alleging administrators barred him from the team last winter because of "personal vendettas" based on their "own jealousy/anger/spite of Bartiromo's local fame."

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