Florida man indicted for $7.2m paycheck loan fraud arrested in Croatia

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Source: N1

Florida man who was indicted by American prosecutors for fraudulently claiming $7.2 million in government loans designed to help small businesses during the pandemic was arrested by Croatian police on Sunday evening on an international arrest warrant, Jutarnji List daily reported.

Don Victor Cisternino, whose IMDb page lists a brief appearance in a 2000 episode of the globally popular television series ER, was arrested after entering Croatia from Slovenia in a vehicle on Sunday evening.

Over the past few years the 45-year-old Cisternino has been running a New York-based company called MagnifiCo which bills itself as providing consulting services in film industry. Cisternino reportedly lived in Manatee County outside Tampa until at least late 2019.

Earlier this year, federal prosecutors in Orlando, Florida indicted Cisternino with embezzling a $7.2 million government loan designed to fund salaries for employees at businesses hit by the Covid crisis.

Prosecutors allege that he had falsely claimed that MagnifiCo had 442 employees, at least several of whom were dead people at the time of his application. In reality, the company had only two – Cisternino and his partner, Lori Quasky.

“I was afraid that the new administration under President Joe Biden would prosecute me for this kind of business, even though it was allowed during the Trump administration. That is why I decided to flee to Europe after the election in the US and seek asylum in Russia or some other country. And that’s how I came to Croatia where I wanted to seek political asylum,” Cisternino was quoted as saying.

Jutarnji reported that the scheme had been discovered after his company’s tax returns showed that all of his workers had paid the same tax of $3,356. However, due to tax deductions related to the number of children, unemployed spouses, and various other benefits, tax returns commonly vary between employees of the same company.

In February, British tabloid Daily Mail reported that according to US investigators Cisternino had spent some of the money on buying a seven-bedroom house in Florida complete with a tennis court, a horse barn, and a pub, as well as several luxury cars.

Jutarnji List said that Cisternino, now held in custody at the Remetinec jail in Zagreb, objects his extradition to face charges for fraud in the US.

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