Legendary coach files suit in alleged Ponzi scheme

September 22, 2010 4:50:00 AM PDT
Legendary high school basketball coach Gene Pingatore says he lost his life savings in a Ponzi scheme and is now suing friend Algird Norkus. Pingatore is Illinois' winnings high school basketball coach. In his 50-plus years at St. Joseph High School in Westchester, he was a mentor and educator on and off the court. But now he's taking Algird Norkus, a friend of 45 years, to court. Norkus is accused of stealing millions from Pingatore and others.

"We've been on fishing trips. We'd been out to dinners. He invited us to his daughter's wedding," said Pingatore of Norkus.

Norkus is being sued for allegedly reeling in investors into a Ponzi scheme.

Pingatree, who helped launch the careers of Isiah Thomas and other NBA stars, was featured in the award-winning documentary Hoop Dreams. For decades he said he invested with Norkus. However, in a lawsuit, Pingatore said he agreed to give Norkus thousands of dollars to start a company in 2007 in exchange for promissory notes listing interest rates of 12-percent or more.

"There was no reason for me to question him. He hadn't done anything wrong in all the years I'd known him," said Pingatore.

Two months ago, there were red flags. After his home in west suburban Westchester was flooded, Pingatore went to Norkus for money.

"I said, 'Al, I'd like to draw out $15,000. Is that possible?' And he made some kind of excuse and gave me a hard time about it," said Pingatore.

Last month interest checks stopped coming. After failing to reach Norkus, Pingatore hired a lawyer who found that dozens of other investors, dating back to 1992, had given Norkus millions.

"He has been constantly taking money from one person to pay back another person to keep this thing perpetrating over the years. There doesn't appear to be any investment that was actually made at any time," said John Burke, Pingatore's attorney.

The lawsuit alleges Norkus pocketed the money and used it buy a million dollar home in west suburban sugar grove. The suit also names San Diego-based Madison Avenue Securities, the financial firm with which Norkus was once affiliated

Pingatore estimates his loss at half-a-million dollars.

"I gave him a portion of my pension, which I recently took, and that's 50 years of accumulating that. That hurts me," said Pingatore.

Burke said he has spoken with 50 other people who invested with Norkus. He believes there may be more alleged victims out there.

ABC7's calls to Madison Avenue Securities went unreturned and Norkus' voicemail was full and unable to receive messages.


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