A 62-year-old St. James man has been indicted for allegedly running a $17-million Ponzi scheme that ripped off 74 investors to pay personal expenses over a nearly decade-long span, federal authorities said.

James Peister was charged with securities, wire and mail fraud in a five-count indictment that was unsealed Monday at Central Islip federal court, where he is scheduled to be arraigned.

Prosecutors said the suspect assured victims that their money would be invested safely in a variety of stocks, but he instead used their money to keep the Ponzi scheme afloat between January 2000 and June 2009.

He allegedly covered up the scame by sending victims phony account statements that falsely showed victims that their investments were performing well and sent bogus financial statements to the investment fund’s independent auditor, authorities said.

The alleged scheme collapsed in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008, when he could no longer keep up with demands nervous investors for their money back.

Investigators seized his Hummer and are moving to forfeit his home, which prosecutors said he bought with the victims’ money.

Peister faces up to 20 years in prison on each of the securities fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud counts, if convicted. That’s in addition to $5,000,000 in fines for the securities fraud count and $250,000 for each of the wire and mail fraud counts.

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Timothy Bolger is the Editor in Chief of the Long Island Press who’s been working to uncover unreported stories since shortly after it launched in 2003. When he’s not editing, getting hassled by The Man or fielding cold calls to the newsroom, he covers crime, general interest and political news in addition to reporting longer, sometimes investigative features. He won’t be happy until everyone is as pissed off as he is about how screwed up Lawn Guyland is.