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Former Dorchester resident gets 18 months for swindling friend out of $1.5 million over five years in bogus Uphams Corner condo deal

Fake ledger

Bogus ledger purporting to show some development expenses, via FBI.

A federal judge yesterday sentenced Edwin Tavarez, 48, of Garfield, NJ to 18 months in prison for the way he got a longtime acquaintance in the old neighborhood to pay him more than $1.5 million over six years for a condo-development deal that never existed to feed a gambling addiction that included frequent trips to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.

Tavarez had pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in May.

Tavarez grew up in Dorchester, but moved to New Jersey - and opened a Dominican restaurant in the Bronx - after his mother died and he and his first wife divorced - according to court records.

In 2015, according to court filings, Tavarez approached a longtime Dorchester acquaintance who owns an auto-repair garage with what he said was a can't-miss deal: They would buy a large industrial warehouse in Uphams Corner near some MBTA tracks, tear it down and build condos and retail space. For an investment of $700,000 or $800,000, he promised the man returns of as much as $18 million once the project was built and the condos sold, according to an affidavit by an FBI agent who worked on the case.

Over the next five years, the feds say, Tavarez provided regular updates to his investor, of deals with the warehouse owner, of surprisingly complex engineering work needed because of the train tracks, of endless meetings with MBTA and BPDA officials. He even provided a copy of his ledger showing all the costs involved, in a city known for the complexity of its building approval process. The victim kept sending him money to advance the work, ultimately more than doubling the amount Tavarez originally told him would be needed.

Only problem, according to the affidavit: The owner of the garage had never heard of the two and had never offered to sell anybody the property, the engineering firm did no work for a man whose name they didn't recognize, and neither the MBTA and BPDA had ever been approached about the parcel or any development on it. At one point, Tavarez told the victim the MBTA Advisory Board had the project scheduled on its agenda for an August, 2019 meeting, but postponed it until Sept. 3. The FBI agent recounts that when he spoke to somebody from the MBTA Advisory Board, he learned that board does not deal at all with real-estate transactions, so never would have considered the proposal anyway.

In a sentencing memorandum to US District Court Judge Leo Sorokin, Tavarez's attorney, Sandra Gant, asked for leniency, in the form of no prison time.

Gant said Tavarez acknowledged the enormity of his wrong doing but pointed to his upbringing in a gang-ridden part of Dorchester "where crime and violence were
common" with a father addicted to gambling - he would take the kid on outings to Suffolk Downs - and a mother who had her legs amputated due to diabetes before suffering a stroke and dying of cancer.

She said Tavarez did not swindle his acquaintance - who is now in his 60s to support a fancy lifestyle, but to feed his gambling addiction. And removing him from his home for an extended period would in turn harm his family - his 18-year-old daughter from his first wife, two pre-teen children from his current wife and his 18-year-old half-brother.

Also, if he's locked up, he can't start to try to re-pay the victim, she said.

What may have started as sincere intentions to co-invest and develop an industrial property with P.F. quickly spiraled out of control as Mr. Tavarez got in way over his head, accumulating gambling debts faster than he could invest, all the while hiding his struggles from his family and – most importantly – from the victim. Had he sought out and received help for what is now clear was a crippling gambling addiction, no doubt inherited from and modeled by his father, he could have avoided burying himself in this enormous financial hole and could have salvaged not just the victim's money, but his friendship.

Hogwash, prosecutor Kristen Kearney replied in her own sentencing memorandum to Sorokin, calling for a 21-month prison sentence.

For all the problems he may have had growing up, Tavarez managed to overcome them - he graduated from "the prestigious Boston Latin School."

He was driven to suck out the victim's money not out of desperation but simple greed, she continued, adding Sorokin needs to send a message to other would be swindlers that their crimes will have consequences:

Tavarez's motive was purely personal gain. He understood that his gain in this scheme represented a direct loss to his friend. He did not act out of coercion, duress, or desperation. Rather, he demonstrated a prolonged willingness to engage in the exploitation of his friend for the sake of personal profit. For a financial crime, these factors point toward the highest degree of culpability.

A meaningful term of incarceration will also send an important message to individuals seeking to take advantage of trusting friends who, because of their relationship with the perpetrator, are more likely to fall prey to such fraudsters. Particularly given the calculated nature of the crime here, criminals are more likely to weigh the benefit of enjoying the proceeds of their fraud against the risk that they will be punished and how severely. A 21-month term of incarceration sends a signal to potential criminals that fraud is not a risk worth taking.

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I assume "for swindling friend out of $1.5 million" should be "for swindling ex-friend out of $1.5 million"?

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I am not a finance guy by any means but I think I would be suspicious that a multimillion dollar project and deal was being conducted on a paper ledger like it was 1965 or something.

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We ain't got no lawyers. We don't need no lawyers. I don't have to show you any stinking lawyers.

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