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South Jersey man faces federal fraud charges for ‘house-of-cards-style scheme’

Michael Salerno has been charged with 23 counts of wire fraud and six counts of mail fraud.

A police car in action.
A police car in action.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Federal prosecutors have charged a Mount Laurel man with operating multiple businesses that defrauded dozens of victims in a “house-of-cards-style scheme.”

Michael Salerno, 51, was arrested Friday and charged with 23 counts of wire fraud and six counts of mail fraud, said Jennifer Arbittier Williams, first assistant U.S. attorney in the Philadelphia office.

Salerno first came under investigation in 2018, when it was discovered he was using his foreign currency trading firm to defraud clients. He charged victims advance fees, usually $1,000, with the promise of giving them currency to trade on the foreign-exchange market, prosecutors said. The victims never received access to that money.

After an injunction was placed on those business operations, Salerno allegedly hatched a new scheme. Prosecutors say he started a business that helped drivers get out of car leases they could no longer afford, and also helped other clients with bad credit find cars to lease.

Salerno would then take the cars from the first group and lease them to the second for high monthly fees, Williams said. The first group had their credit scores ruined, and the second group often had their cars unexpectedly repossessed by Salerno.

“When Salerno’s foreign currency trading scheme came crashing down around him, he very quickly moved on to an alternative way of swindling people out of their money with car leases and loans,” Williams said in a statement.

“The damage done by such corrupt financial schemes can be catastrophic to innocent people’s credit and financial security. We will continue to hold those who commit crimes, like the ones alleged here, accountable for their misdeeds.”