TROY, Mich. – A Troy investor is accused of losing $19 million of other people’s money in a scheme that involved tricking them into fake investment opportunities and spending more than $1 million per week on Michigan Lottery games.
Viktor Gjonaj, 43, was charged Thursday (Jan. 28) with one count of wire fraud.
Officials said the commercial real estate broker and investor devised a plan to take money from people by making promising them he would invest it in lucrative real estate deals.
In June 2016, Gjonaj believed he had discovered a guaranteed way to win large jackpots playing the Michigan Lottery Daily 3 and Daily 4 games, according to authorities.
As part of his plan, Gjonaj had to greatly increase the times he played and the amounts he spent while playing, federal officials said.
Gjonaj started losing more money than he won by 2017, and it was more than he could afford to lose, authorities said.
Instead of ending the gambling scheme, Gjonaj tricked others into giving him money through the fake real estate investment deal plan, according to officials.
To make the deals look legitimate, Gjonaj created a fake title company and told his victims to wire transfer money into the bank account of that fake company, feds said.
“This case shows us that criminals may use sophisticated methods and apparently legitimate businesses, but their crimes amount to nothing more than stealing other people’s money,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said. “The defendant’s gambling harmed not just himself, but many other innocent victims as well.”
Officials said Gjonaj would describe the fake deals in great detail and encourage investors to continue giving him money by disbursing payments to them and claiming they were profits from the investment.
By early 2019, Gjonaj was betting more than $1 million per week on Michigan Lottery games using money fraudulently obtained from victims, according to officials.
In August 2019, his scheme had unraveled and resulted in more than $19 million in losses to those victims, authorities said.
“Viktor Gjonaj repeatedly lied about the nature of his business, inducing investors to turn over money that he then squandered by playing the lottery,” said Timothy Waters, special agent in charge of the FBI in Michigan. “The defendant’s lies have caught up with him and he will now face the consequences of his fraudulent scheme.”
FBI agents handled the investigation, with help from the Securities and Exchange Commission.