A North Carolina woman admitted yesterday in federal court in Philadelphia that she had posed as the heiress to a mythical $2 billion estate in a scam that swindled more than 140 people out of $1.7 million.
Bari Lynn Berger, 67, of Durham, posed as the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy billionaire who had died years ago and did not approve of Berger's lifestyle.
Victims were told that Berger's father had stipulated in his will that she had to become financially stable and receive necessary medical care to be eligible to receive the nest egg.
They were initially told that they would be repaid $100 for every $1 (later increased to $1,000 for every $1) that they contributed to Berger's effort toward meeting her father's demands.
But there was no nest egg.
Berger pleaded guilty to a single count each of mail and wire fraud.
U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe set sentencing for April 11. (Co-defendant Gerald Radomski, who pleaded guilty to the same charges in July, will also be sentenced then.)
Radomski, 64, of Largo, Fla., agreed to forfeit almost $1.6 million and stipulated that the fraud involved at least 50 victims.
Court papers said that in May 2008 Radomski solicited an Ardmore woman - identified only as "A.H." in court documents because she is a cooperating witness - to pitch the investment.
Prosecutors described A.H. as a professional fundraiser who promoted secretive, get-rich-quick investment opportunities to wealthy, often elderly individuals.
The government's plea memo said that A.H. did not meet Berger or Radomski in person, but communicated with them almost daily.
Victims were told that they would be paid back with a "gift" from the estate and that any gift taxes would be paid by Berger.
Most funds were wired or transferred to Radomski's bank account or mailed directly to him. Victims believed that he was Berger's personal representative and would in turn provide the funds to Berger.
Authorities said that between January 2008 and January 2009 more than 140 investors - including about 40 from the Philadelphia area - ponied up almost $1.7 million toward the Berger scheme.
Radomski allegedly kept $300,000 and turned the rest over to Berger. The plea memo said that Berger bought jewelry, wigs, sunglasses, pet-store supplies, an RV and several motorcycles.
Berger said that she also gave an unspecified amount of money to needy people she knew.
The scheme unraveled in March 2009 after one investor met with Berger, who told him that the story about her being the illegitimate daughter of a deceased billionaire was made up.