by James Welsh on July 13, 2012
When a young Ramon DeSage first visited Las Vegas from his native Lebanon 35 years ago, he liked what he saw. He liked the glitzy strip and the gambling, and he especially liked the smell of opportunity and money that floated around.
Before long, he had founded Cadeau Express, a company that furnishes the upscale gift items that gambling casinos provide to their high-rolling guests. His second company, Desage Chocolatier, makes and sells high-end candies.
Ramon DeSage, 61, came to the United States after growing up in Lebanon and being educated in France, and is the quintessential marketer and networker. One of his websites shows DeSage rubbing elbows at events with show business and political personalities ranging from Sylvester Stallone, Al Pacino and Simon Cowell, to Al Gore, Bob Dole, and George H.W. Bush.
That same Web site unabashedly describes Desage’s charitable and philanthropic proclivities this way: “Mr. DeSage’s charity has been and continues to be singular in its enormity.”
But the Internal Revenue Service maintains that the story of Ramon Antoine DeSage has a down-side that is perhaps equally enormous. In a recent article, the Las Vegas Review-Journal said DeSage is accused of using his companies to rip off investors for “tens of millions of dollars.”
The Review-Journal quoted federal court documents as saying that Ramon DeSage “lulls investors” into giving him money, but “never pays them back in full and never pays the rate of return he initially promised.”
The newspaper said a wire fraud complaint recently filed by the IRS against Ramon DeSage also claims he owes more than $75 million to investors. He has allegedly run a Ponzi scheme to underwrite a lavish lifestyle, and to feed a “prodigious” gambling habit that has allegedly led him to lose $20 million since 2006.
At a recent detention hearing in Las Vegas, a federal prosecutor asked that Desage, a father of seven, be kept in jail because he is a flight risk, has huge assets in Lebanon, and is considered a “sheik” in his home country. He holds citizenship in both Lebanon and the U.S.
The judge allowed Ramon DeSage to be released under his own recognizance, but ordered him electronically monitored and held under house arrest.
This is not DeSage’s first brush with the law. He was fined $175,000 in 1999, the Review-Journal said, for making illegal campaign contributions to former Republican presidential contender Bob Dole.
Desage’s lawyer promises to “vigorously defend this case,” the Review-Journal said. Meanwhile, his passports have been seized, and presumably, he has been custom-fitted for an electronic ankle bracelet.
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James Welsh is a financial writer specializing in compliance and securities fraud issues. He also authors the “Top 10” column at www.thestreetsweeper.org, and has held staff editing and writing positions at newspapers including The Times-Picayune of New Orleans and the Orange County (Calif.) Register.