PLEADS GUILTY |
Florida man who tried to claim asylum in Ireland jailed for stealing €6.6 million in Covid funds
Don Cisternino previously begged the Irish government for political asylum to avoid facing charges
15th January 2022
A Florida man who tried to claim asylum in Ireland has been jailed for stealing €6.6 million ($7.2 million) in Covid funds.
Former CIA operative, Don Victor Cisternino, a movie mogul with an Irish passport, previously sought political asylum in Ireland as he faced extradition to the United States from Croatia to face the charges.
He was handed down an eight and a half year prison term for wire fraud and identity theft.
Using stolen Social Security numbers, prosecutors said that the 47-year-old made fake claims that his company had a payroll over over $2.8 million, which led the government to approve him for an emergency loan of $7.2 million during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He claimed that he owned a film production and marketing business that had 441 employees, but in fact, it had none.
Cisternino allegedly used the money to buy luxury cars and a 12,500-square-foot $3.5 million mansion on a 12-acre estate. The seven-bedroom home had a movie theatre, a five-stable horse barn, a swimming pool, a tennis court and a pub.
Before receiving the emergency pandemic funds, court records showed that the Florida man was living in a “modest apartment” in Tampa with his girlfriend.
He reportedly spent $251,000 on a Mercedes-Maybach S650X, $90,000 on a Lincoln Navigator and paid off a $48,000 loan for a Maserati.
After receiving the money, investigators were tipped off that Cisternino misspent the money. When he was alerted to the probe, he fled to Switzerland. He reportedly travelled across Europe for three months before being arrested in Croatia.
An international warrant was issued for his arrest and he was caught after he tried to enter the country from Slovenia.
He resisted extradition to the US, begging the Irish government to grant him asylum but he was ultimately unsuccessful.
Don Cisternino pleaded guilty at a federal court in Orlando to wire fraud and identity-theft.
As part of his plea agreement, Cisternino agreed to forfeit the $7.2 million in proceeds that he had obtained through the wire fraud, as well as assets traceable to the fraud, including the 12,579 sq. ft. residence and approximately $1.1 million in funds held in bank accounts controlled by him or his associates.