Federal prosecutors have charged the former owner of Glen Burnie's Empire Towers, a 10-story building on Ritchie Highway, with securities fraud for allegedly raising more than $7 million from investors for personal use under the guise that he was selling bonds.

Wilfred T. Azar III, 53, raised the money from at least 50 investors, but none of the bonds were registered with the state or the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, according to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Instead, a related SEC complaint described the bonds as "nothing more than uncollateralized loans."


Azar used the funds for his own personal use or to support failing business ventures, according to the SEC. His expenses included $100,000 for an Aston Martin car, $18,000 for Baltimore Ravens season tickets, and $420,000 for vacations, meals and his child's college tuition.

Azar, formerly of Queenstown and a current resident of Hampton Bays, N.Y., faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the federal securities fraud charge. Attempts to reach him for comment were not successful.

The SEC complaint filed Friday also names Azar's investment adviser Joseph A. Giordano, 51, in connection with the scheme, seeking repayment of the "ill-gotten gains" plus interest and penalties. It also seeks to enjoin both men from further violations of SEC law and to prevent Azar from acting as an officer or director of any company that issues publicly traded securities.

The federal indictment said that by 2006, Azar's company, Empire Corp., could not pay its bills and was effectively insolvent. It had amassed a debt of $22 million and exhausted its lines of credit, the SEC said.

Azar raised the money between 2006 and 2010 by selling bonds for Empire through Giordano and an unnamed broker.

"Azar falsely told investors that Empire Corporation was in good financial health, and that the money would be used to renovate the Empire Towers office building," prosecutors said. "Azar failed to inform investors that he used most of the money raised from previous bond sales for his own personal purposes."

Those purposes included country club expenses and lavish vacations, and to finance failing businesses, according to the SEC complaint. The regulator said Azar owned a number of companies, including real estate ventures and a yacht brokerage business.

The SEC alleged Giordano watched Empire's condition deteriorate but failed to take action and continued to mischaracterize the company's situation.

The scheme collapsed in 2010 when Azar and Giordano were unable to recruit new investors, the SEC said.

Though named in the SEC complaint, Giordano was not charged in the federal indictment. In 2013, he entered into a consent order with the Maryland attorney general's office in connection with the allegations, agreeing to a $25,000 penalty. As a result of the consent order, he was barred from engaging in the securities or investment advisory business in Maryland.

Empire Towers was sold at auction for $3.1 million in 2013, according to the Maryland Gazette. It was 40 percent vacant at the time of the sale.