EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 3, 2013

Merrimac woman found guilty in Ponzi scheme

Staff Reports
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — WOBURN — A Merrimac woman used a Ponzi scheme to steal from her clients’ life savings through a law firm she operated with her husband, and used the money to support an extravagant lifestyle that included luxury cars and trips abroad.

Lee Peck Eu Unitt, 48, of Merrimac, was found guilty this week of embezzling following a 10-day jury trial in Middlesex Superior Court on charges of felony larceny (four counts), fiduciary embezzlement and being a common and notorious thief.

A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Monday at 2 p.m.

According to the Middlesex District Attorney’s office, Unitt used clients’ money to support an extravagant lifestyle that included family vacations to Malaysia, Cancun and Aruba, expensive cars including Hummers, Cadillacs and Land Rovers; and thousands of dollars in monthly personal expenses. The district attorney’s office said she operated a Ponzi scheme by using money from clients’ investments to pay debts due to other clients.

“The defendant violated the trust of her clients by stealing their life savings and falsifying mortgage documents,” Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said. “The defendant defrauded her clients, her supposed friends, and spent their money on her extravagant personal lifestyle.”

Her husband, Peter Unitt III, has also been charged with larceny over $250 (2 counts), conspiracy to larceny and embezzlement. His trial in Middlesex Superior Court is scheduled for July 15.

According to authorities, Peter Unitt practiced law at his law office in Woburn, which was known as “The Crest Group, LLC.” Lee Unitt worked at the firm as a secretary, business manager and paralegal.

In 2006, the first victim was referred to the Crest Group for legal representation following a car crash. There she met Lee Unitt, whom she was led to believe was an attorney with the firm. Unitt recommended that the victim refinance any property she owned so as to remove all equity from her holdings by taking out large property mortgages. Unitt further suggested that the victim leave the mortgage proceeds in the client trust account of the Crest Group, so the plaintiff suing the victim would not be able to get at it.

When the victim asked Lee Unitt to return the money, the victim was informed that the money was overseas and would take a significant amount of time to have it returned. The victim is still awaiting the return of $190,729.

Lee Unitt also embezzled investment money from a married couple whom she had befriended.

The wife had been involved in an automobile accident and Unitt again recommended refinancing their home and investment properties, and to invest the new mortgage proceeds in an international real estate investment pool. Unitt promised a return of 11 percent or greater.

The victims entrusted over $500,000 to Unitt from refinancing proceeds and from their savings for retirement.

Neither of the victims ever received an accounting as to the status of their investments nor has any of their money been returned.

Also in 2007, Lee Unitt offered to help an unemployed friend get a fixed mortgage. She asked the victim to sign a pile of documents, which included false and inflated statements concerning her income. Unbeknownst to the victim, Chase bank issued a new $218,000 mortgage, which monies Lee Peck Unitt diverted and spent while the friend continued paying on her old mortgage.

The Unitts were indicted by a Middlesex Grand Jury in September 2010 and arraigned in October 2010 in Middlesex Superior Court, where Judge Jane Haggerty held them on $50,000 cash bail with the conditions that they be placed on home confinement with GPS monitoring bracelets and turn in their passports.

In 2002, Peter Unitt ran unsuccessfully for state representative in his then-hometown of Concord. He won the Republican primary, but lost in the general election against incumbent Democrat Rep. Cory Atkins.

Four years later, the Unitts bought a home in Georgetown for $800,000, according to Registry of Deeds records. The registry records several liens placed against the property, which was taken by the bank at auction in 2010.