A Tale of a $10 Million International Embezzlement Scheme

A Tale of a $10 Million International Embezzlement Scheme

Roberto Montano began his relationship with New Hampshire-based Global Forest Partners (GFP) in 2006. At that time, GFP entered a joint venture arrangement with Montano’s company in Guatemala to develop and manage teak plantations in that country. Teak is a hardwood used in flooring, indoor and outdoor furniture, kitchen cabinetry, veneer, and even yacht decks.

GFP is a low-profile firm with only 24 employees, but it manages billions of dollars in forest industry investments. The company’s clients are private and public pension funds, foundations, endowments, and other institutional investors.

GFP invested a total of $75 – $80 million of its clients’ money into two separate teak investments. The capital was to be used to purchase land, supplies, equipment, and labor needed to plant, maintain, and harvest teak trees on the new plantations to supply global markets. Montano managed the teak forestry projects for GFP from 2007 until 2014.

In 2014, GFP learned the Guatemalan contractors had not been paid, which obviously led to an internal investigation. When questioned, Montano admitted that he had been using the money to fund his own personal ventures and had even “cooked the books” to hide his illicit transactions since 2009. Montano admitted he decided to take the money out of the joint venture in the hopes he would turn his own business ventures around and then pay the money back. 

Montano concealed his activities by altering financial statements and moving funds between accounts. He used several different methods including transferring the venture’s funds into accounts he personally controlled, diverting subsidies provided by the Guatemalan government to unidentified recipients, and mortgaging the venture’s assets to collateralize loans to himself. The U.S. attorney’s office said Montano provided the company with a false bank statement reporting that one of the bank accounts had a cash balance of more than $1.1 million. The account was empty.

During the investigation, Montano pleaded with GFP executives not to prosecute, saying he would never be able to pay them back if he was in jail. 

However, as investigators were closing in and he learned they were seeking criminal charges, he agreed to meet with GFP executives to provide more information but failed to show up for the scheduled meeting to discuss the situation. Instead, he fled to Guatemala City and then later to Nicaragua to avoid capture and prosecution. His case triggered an international manhunt. He lived under different identities and worked a variety of odd jobs to avoid detection. During his time in Guatemala, he also became connected with another alleged embezzlement scheme, not related to GFP, according to federal law enforcement officials.

The details of the capture have not been made public at this time, but in November 2023, Roberto Montano was arrested at Miami International Airport and returned to law enforcement in NH.

Montano pleaded guilty to wire fraud under an agreement with prosecutors in February 2024 in Concord, NH, that calls for a five-year prison sentence and restitution. His sentencing by the court will be May 30, 2024. Under sentencing guidelines he could face up to 20 years in prison, up to 3 years supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the amount stolen, whichever is greater, if the court ignores the plea deal.