FTE Networks' former CEO, CFO charged with fraud, embezzlement, theft

·2-min read

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Federal and New York prosecutors on Thursday charged two former top executives of FTE Networks Inc with several crimes including defrauding the network infrastructure company's auditors and investors, inflating revenue, embezzling money for luxuries, and theft.

Former Chief Executive Michael Palleschi and former Chief Financial Officer David Lethem were each charged with securities and wire fraud, improperly influencing audits, identity theft and conspiracy, U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in Manhattan said.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed related civil charges against Palleschi, 46, of Naples, Florida and Wellesley Island, New York, and Lethem, 62, of Fort Myers, Florida.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance separately charged both defendants with grand larceny, saying they stole more than $28 million from construction manager Benchmark Builders Inc to make FTE's finances look better and fund Palleschi's spending.

Lawyers for the defendants could not immediately be located. FTE did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The New York-based company's stock traded on the NYSE American market before being suspended in December 2019.

Federal prosecutors said that from 2016 to February 2019, the defendants used forgeries and fake board resolutions to mislead external auditors about more than $22 million of convertible notes that FTE sold, and kept liabilities for the notes off FTE's balance sheet.

Authorities said Palleschi and Lethem also caused FTE to recognize more than $12 million of revenue it had not earned, and diverted corporate funds for salary increases, private jet use, luxury cars and other personal expenses.

According to the SEC, Palleschi misappropriated $4.3 million, including $740,000 for car leases and storage and $228,000 for family trips to Peru and Las Vegas, while Lethem misappropriated $1.1 million, primarily cash payments to himself and his wife.

"Financial fraud schemes are all too common, and in order to maintain investor confidence, we need to hold accountable those who perpetrate them," FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney said in a statement.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chris Reese)

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