by: Heather Hegedus, Erin Smith Updated:
BOSTON - A man convicted of cheating local people out of tens of millions in a North Shore Ponzi scheme is now working as a career counselor at a taxpayer-funded university, FOX25 Investigates has learned.
Bradford C. Bleidt pleaded guilty to more than 100 counts of mail fraud and money laundering in a local Ponzi scheme. He was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison in 2005 and ordered to pay more than $31.7 million in restitution, according to federal records.
FOX25 Investigates found Bleidt, who was released from prison three years ago, earning taxpayer money to provide career counseling at UMass Boston.
The news comes on the heels of the campus leaders’ announcement of across-the-board budget cuts to close a major shortfall.
Bleidt’s victims say his taxpayer-funded job as a career advisor to college kids is a slap in the face.
One Swampscott victim, Janice Tenney, told FOX25’s Heather Hegedus she thought she would be getting ready to retire and travel the world at this stage in her life.
“When your whole life savings has been taken from you, it's just such a void,” said Tenney.
Tenney said she and her husband poured their life savings into a retirement account with Bleidt – a fellow mason with her husband Michael at the Lynn Masonic Lodge and someone they thought they could trust.
“Nobody questioned him because he was such a friendly fellow,” said Tenney. “He had a handsome face... He just didn't look like the… a monster.”
Bleidt owned his own investment company in Beverly and soon convinced the Tenneys and many of their friends at the lodge to invest with him. They later found out Bleidt was running a Ponzi scheme and diverting money into his own bank account.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission only recouped a fraction of the money Bleidt stole and Tenney say they received small portion back – although Bleidt was ordered to return more than $236,000 to the couple.
“You're not going to take $25,000 and start a new 401k at 53-years-old,” said Tenney.
Janice Tenney called FOX25 Investigates when she found out Bleidt was working as a career counselor at UMass Boston.
In the past two years, Bleidt has earned more than $50,000 total from his UMass Boston job.
“It’s hard to believe that our tax dollars are going to pay his salary,” Tenney told FOX25. “And he's a career specialist. That's what made me so angry.”
FOX25 tracked down Bleidt at his Dorchester apartment.
“Well let's put it this way... I have a lot of remorse about what I did,” said Bleidt. “It was a terrible thing to have happened.”
Bleidt said he is making restitution payments, but federal officials at the Securities and Exchange Commission told FOX25 Investigates it could not release information on whether Bleidt is paying any money to his victims – citing federal privacy laws.
Bleidt defended his taxpayer-funded job, saying, “Taxpayers pay a lot more for people that are incarcerated. I'm trying to earn my money and to do the right thing. And I'd appreciate it – I'd like to have a second chance.”
But Janice Tenney said she won’t get a second chance at the retirement dream she imagined for herself and her husband.
Michael died four years ago from esophageal cancer.
“I do think that the stress from this whole thing certainly did add to his death. I really do believe it,” said Tenney. “He said to me, 'We're going to have a good time when we retire.' …It just didn't pan out the way we had hoped. You know, it's a sad thing.”
FOX25 Investigates reached out to officials at UMass Boston, who declined requests for an on-camera interview.
In a statement, the university said Bleidt was hired as a part-time student employee but did not answer questions about whether it did a criminal background check on Bleidt before he was hired.
“Mr. Bleidt first came to UMass Boston as a student and subsequently was hired as a part-time student-employee,” said a university spokesman in the statement. “As a public university serving people of all ages and backgrounds, we recognize that people who have faced prior difficulties should still have the opportunity to improve themselves through education. As we learn more about the situation, we will act accordingly.”
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