The Observer filed a motion Friday seeking tax information redacted from an FBI affidavit that alleged Charlotte businessman Rick Siskey operated a long-running Ponzi scheme.
Siskey took his own life Dec. 28, a week after court filings gave the first public indication that he was under investigation for fraud allegations. An FBI affidavit unsealed in January at the Observer’s request alleged he was operating a Ponzi scheme and that more than 100 investors could be out as much as $19 million.
When the Observer asked for the affidavit to be unsealed, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Charlotte did not oppose the motion, but the government did object to the release of certain tax information, citing federal statutes. The judge ultimately unsealed a redacted version of the document in which two of the 16 pages were blacked out.
In a memorandum filed Friday, attorney Jonathan Buchan said the Observer does not believe that the tax confidentiality statute “overrides the well-established presumption of open court records guaranteed by the First Amendment and the federal common law.”
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The memorandum says the matter is analogous to a situation in 2015 when the Observer moved to unseal documents related to the sentencing of former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon on a public corruption charge. The defendant objected to the release of private medical information, but the court “ruled that the public’s interest in that information outweighed that privacy right,” the filing says.
The memorandum adds that if the FBI’s investigation of Siskey had continued “the details of his activities and the techniques he used to implement them and keep them secret for years – including information regarding how he reported and apparently disguised his sources of income in his federal income tax returns – would have been made public during an eventual trial or as part of pre-trial or post-trial proceedings.”
The abrupt end to the investigation “should not leave these possibly critical parts of the court file shrouded in secrecy indefinitely,” the document says.
Friday’s motion asks the court to review the unredacted affidavit and to unseal it completely, “with the limited exception of social security numbers and taxpayer identification numbers.”
Meanwhile, Siskey’s investors are still working to get their money back. A federal bankruptcy court judge last week appointed an interim trustee as part of an effort to recover investor funds.
It’s also possible that the Securities and Exchange Commission could get involved, attorneys for investors have said. An SEC attorney filed a “notice of appearance” in the bankruptcy case this week.
Siskey’s widow, Diane, has voluntarily committed to set aside $37.5 million of the $46.94 million in life insurance proceeds she has received for investors and other creditors.
After moving to Charlotte in 1985, Siskey became a fixture on the Charlotte business and social scene, running a financial services firm and making investments in private companies. In 1995, the Siskey YMCA in Matthews was named for the family.