West Chester Woman Accused of Real Estate Ponzi Scheme

Marie Mikesche Bontigao, who once led the Tri State Group franchise of EXIT Realty, is charged with defrauding investors of more than $2 million.

Federal authorities today charged a 43-year-old West Chester woman with an elaborate ponzi scheme to defraud real estate investors. United States Attorney Zane David Memeger said Marie Miksche Bontigao bilked lenders out of more than $2 million dollars.

According to the indictment, Bontigao set up the Tri-State Group franchise of EXIT Realty and solicited investments in real estate projects. Instead, authorities say, she used the money to operate her business and pay real estate expenses. She faces charges of wire and mail fraud.

According to a 2009 profile in the Philadelphia Business Journal, Bontigao had just $28.35 to her name several years prior after a divorce and the theft of her identity. Her business was shuttered and her home was in foreclosure, but friends lent her money to go to realty school. She was also featured in a 2011 issue of Forbes. That article, per a press release, highlighted Bontigao’s “compassion and desire to give back to the community.”

The feds say Bontigao told investors her company was renovating a warehouse in Maryland and renovating properties in Philadelphia to resell at a profit. She promised lenders a huge interest rate — from 10 to 40 percent — to be paid in monthly installments. “In order to perpetuate the scheme, defendant Marie Miksche Bontigao would sometimes pay individual lenders the monthly payments that she had promised them,” the indictment reads.

“Defendant Bontigao paid the individual lenders by check sent via Federal Express to their homes. Bontigao also sent email in interstate commerce to individual lenders making statements to convince them that their investments were sound, and assuage their concerns. The payments, mailings and emails with the investors all served to lull the individual lenders into believing that their loan principal was safe and that their investments were sound, which was false.” She eventually defaulted on the repayments.

The FBI investigated the case. Bontigao faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted.

Read a copy of the indictment below.

Bontigao Indictment