When the parents of Jaime Gough won a $1.7 million settlement for the fatal stabbing of their 14-year-old son at a Miami-Dade public school, they invested some of the money with their accountant, Juan Carlos Rodriguez.
And when the husband of Rodriguezs longtime secretary was dying of terminal cancer, the accountant convinced the couple to put some money into his side business of investing in stocks, bonds and precious metals such as gold.
What the two families didnt know: The seemingly down-to-earth Miami accountant who did their taxes and invested their money was the consummate con man, who fleeced them and dozens of other clients who had trusted J.C. Rodriguez like a friend.
I was devastated, said Rodriguezs former secretary, Araceli Valle, 51, of West Miami, whose husband died of lung cancer in September 2010.
Not only did I lose my husband, I lost a brother and a friend. This man came to my husbands funeral with his wife.
To hit a family like the Goughs with such a low blow is despicable, said their attorney, Gregg Schwartz, representing Jorge and Maria Gough, whose son was murdered in 2004 by his best friend at Southwood Middle School. This Ponzi schemer knew the familys whole tragic saga, and he still preyed on them because he was greedy.
The 49-year-old Rodriguez, accused by prosecutors of stealing $1.9 million from 63 investors, has pleaded guilty to wire fraud. On Friday, he faces up to 6 ½ years in prison at his sentencing in federal court.
His attorney, Lane Abraham, declined to comment. But in court papers, he said only 48 victims lost a total of $564,000, which should reduce Rodriguezs potential sentence to less than four years.
Rodriguezs scheme was not as grandiose as those of imprisoned Ponzi figures such as Wall Street investor Bernard Madoff, Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein or Miami-Dade businessman Gaston E. Cantens. But the accountant shared a similar M.O., preying on people close to him and using the money of new investors to pay off old investors until the money well dried up.
Every day, for years on end, defendant Juan Carlos Rodriguez lied to scores of friends, family members and clients who trusted him, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Luck wrote in a sentencing memo.
Luck said the accountants motivation was to steal other peoples money to support a good lifestyle, including a four-bedroom home in a gated community off Old Cutler Road, a beach house in Jensen Beach and a BMW for his wife.
While Rodriguez carried out the fraud between 2007 and 2010, his bank records showed he made $181,000 in mortgage payments, $229,000 in credit card payments and $105,000 in car payments.
To pay for homes, and cars, and a nice lifestyle, Rodriguez was willing to sacrifice the well-being of a woman with a cancer-stricken husband and a man whose son had been brutally murdered, Luck wrote in the sentencing memo.
Rodriguez ran his accounting business, Vares Tax, with a half-dozen employees out of a storefront on Coral Way in Miami. Under the same roof, the accountant also had an investment business, MDN Financial Group.
Rodriguez lured in his accounting clients, friends and relatives to invest with him, guaranteeing returns of 20 to 50 percent each month on his purported investments in stocks, bonds and gold. A total of 116 investors plunked down about $5 million, signing investment management agreements with his company, MDN, according to court records.