Wrestling with Reform: Financial Scandals and the Legislation They Inspired

Legislation Ahead of Its Time: Arizona Securities Act of 1951

The Con Man

“He said that he had big copper mine holdings in Arizona and that they were putting in new machinery there and new equipment, and that he was going to retire from the legal practice to devote all his time and energy to this, if I would marry him, because he could double his income – his first wife had killed all ambition in him, and he hadn’t any desire to make more money, and had sort of rested on his oars, but if I would marry him he would work this mine, and we could live like I had been accustomed to living and as he would enjoy living.”

- June 3, 1948 Selected Pages from Transcript of United States of America v. Constantino Vincent Riccardi

Arizona enacted its own Blue Sky law in 1912, which served it well through World War II. Though the war brought industrialization and urbanization, and with them a need for strengthened securities laws, it took a confidence man to make it happen.

Constantino Vincent Riccardi’s thirty-year criminal career left behind a trail of spurned women, default and short sentences.  His record began in 1913 with debt, divorce, perjury and flight to Monte Carlo.  Riccardi later added a hotel swindle in St. Louis and embezzlement in San Francisco.  He was released from San Quentin after giving San Francisco officials insight into their city’s corruption.  In 1935, Riccardi was arrested in Arizona for peddling fraudulent mining stocks.  Two years later, he was sentenced to Sing Sing for the same offense and banned from selling securities in New York. (11)

A decade later, Riccardi was still wheeling and dealing.  In 1947, he was indicted for illegally selling stock in Southwestern Mines, Inc. to Long Island jewelry salesman Albert Grilli.  Grilli bought $16,000 worth of mining stock at what Riccardi claimed was the insider price of $.50 per share.  Arizona state law, however, limited the price at which the stock could be sold to $.30 per share.  Riccardi also claimed that the shares had been registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, listed on the New York Curb Exchange, and would open at $3 to $5 per share.  He made further claims about the company’s management and asserted that his was the only stock available.  All of these statements constituted fraud and misrepresentation.  Indicted in New York for grand larceny, Riccardi successfully resisted extradition through a writ of habeas corpus in Cochise County, Arizona. (12)

A month after the Grilli charges, Riccardi was indicted on five counts of grand larceny for swindling nearly $100,000 worth of jewelry and other goods from Doris Farid, the widow of a department store magnate claiming to be a princess by prior marriage.  Farid had met Riccardi in 1945, at a time when she owed $200,000 in back taxes and was trying to sell her house.  Riccardi presented himself as single, well-off and with an Ivy League education, none of which was true.  He proposed marriage within a week, assuring Farid that profits from mining stocks would support them.  She assigned much of her property to Riccardi, expecting him to sell it to help pay her taxes.  In exchange, he gave her Leadville Western Mines, Inc. stock, which he assured would soon be in demand on the Curb Exchange.  Mrs. Farid never received any money and discovered that the stock was also worthless.  She took Riccardi to court.

Riccardi kept the Farid and Grilli cases separate for a time but in 1948 was extradited to New York.  He jumped bail but was finally arrested, tried, and convicted for fraudulently obtaining Mrs. Farid’s property. (13)  He received a sentence of ten years and a fine of $10,000; the judge calling him “one of the most despicable and contemptible criminal characters” he had ever come across.  Riccardi served his sentence and died in 1960 with his fine unpaid.


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Footnotes:

(11) Los Angeles Times, “Stock Promoter Wanted In East is ‘Quite a Man,’” March 19, 1947.  Arizona Independent Republic, “Riccardi Faces Theft Hearing,” July 8, 1935.  New York Times, “Sought in Sale of Stock,” May 12, 1937.  New York Times, “Woman Promoter Held As Swindler,” June 24, 1937.  New York Times, “‘Wealthy Rancher’ Held in Mine Fraud,” March 17, 1947. 

(12) New York Times, “‘Wealthy Rancher’ Held in Mine Fraud,” March 17, 1947.  Tucson Daily Citizen, “Mine Promoter Fights Charge,” March 17, 1947. 

(13) Yuma Daily Sun, “Riccardi to Be Extradited to New York on Swindle Charge,” May 13, 1948.  New York Times, “New York Locates Master Swindler,” May 29, 1948

Related Museum Resources

Papers

August 1, 1945
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
August 2, 1945
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
October 3, 1945
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
November 16, 1945
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
April 18, 1946
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
July 30, 1946
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
September 23, 1946
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
October 22, 1946
image pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
October 30, 1946
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
March 18, 1947
image pdf (Courtesy of the New York Municipal Archives)
April 23, 1947
image pdf (Courtesy of the New York Municipal Archives)
May 19, 1947
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
1948
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
April 27, 1948
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
June 3, 1948
image pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
June 21, 1948
image pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
June 21, 1948
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
July 13, 1949
transcript pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
October 5, 1949
image pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
October 24, 1949
image pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
November 14, 1949
image pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)
August 26, 1965
image pdf (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)

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