TROY, Mich. – A Troy investor who thought he had figured out a guaranteed way to win huge jackpots in the Michigan Lottery has been sentenced after he spent $1 million of other people’s money each week to carry out the failed scheme.
Viktor Gjonaj, 43, was sentenced Wednesday (Sept. 29) to 53 months in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud, according to authorities.
Officials said Gjonaj -- a commercial real estate broker, investor and Birmingham business owner -- devised a plan to take money from people by 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 offer, 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.
“White collar criminals may use sophisticated methods and apparently legitimate businesses, but their crimes amount to nothing more than stealing other people’s money,” acting United States Attorney Saima S. Mohsin said. “Gjonaj used his previous business successes and relationships with victim-investors to lure them into his scheme, to convince them his false promises were true, and to steal their money.”
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 $23 million in losses to those victims, authorities said.
“In just over two years, Viktor Gjonaj stole more than $23 million from his victims with promises of lucrative real estate deals,” said Timothy Waters, special agent in charge of the FBI in Michigan. “Gjonaj violated the trust his victims placed in him and left many financially devastated. Today’s sentence provides the victims with a measure of justice and serves as a signal to others that white collar criminals will be aggressively pursued by the FBI.”
Following his release from prison, Gjonaj will serve a three-year term of supervised release. He was ordered to make restitution to his victims in the amount of $25,299,120.00 and to forfeit $19,025,000.