South County Scandal: Inside Rhode Island’s ‘Most Disturbing’ Ponzi Scheme

Monique Brady is charged with swindling millions from local families to fund lavish trips, real estate exploits and a gambling addiction.
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All Images: U.S. Government Photos.

In April 2019, the walls were closing in on Monique Brady. 

After catching wind that the FBI was interviewing her friends, Brady used cash to buy a one-way ticket to Vietnam — a country that has no extradition treaty with the United States. Then FBI agents showed up to interview her boyfriend, so she quickly paid a fee to move up her flight to the next day.

Brady never made the plane. The feds learned about her accelerated plans to flee the country and let her attorney know they would apprehend her. Brady turned herself in and was arrested on April 26, 2019. 

She was charged with swindling millions of dollars from her closest friends and family members and using the ill-gotten gains to fund a lavish lifestyle, including gambling, trips to far-flung destinations, a $1 million home in East Greenwich and tickets to multiple Super Bowls. A photo submitted with court documents showed Brady even snapped a photo of herself with NFL superstar Tom Brady (no relation). 


U.S. Government Photos. Monique Brady’s sentencing memo included photos of her with former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Her arrest was big news in the country’s smallest state. Brady was a successful businesswoman with strong roots to her well-to-do community. The details made for a compelling story, especially since she was accused of orchestrating a $10 million Ponzi scheme. 

But her arrest came as the biggest shock to many who thought they were close to Brady. They believed she was their family friend, close confidante, business partner, investing guru, gambling buddy and traveling companion. 

And many were left wondering: How is it possible I didn’t know she was stealing my money? 

Within a year, Brady WAS sentenced to eight years in federal prison.

She did not respond to multiple requests through prison mail and her attorneys to be interviewed. But her personality and behavior are well-documented in the hundreds of pages of court filings, emails, letters and transcripts reviewed for this story. 

According to a sentencing memo filed by Brady in federal court, Brady, her mother and sister fled Vietnam in 1979 when she was four years old, attempting to make their way to the United States aboard a fishing vessel. The boat almost sank but they were rescued by a Dutch freighter. The family was placed in a refugee camp in the Philippines before coming to the United States and reuniting with Brady’s father in California. In the United States, she was able to change her name (Ha) to any American name she wanted, and she chose Monique after an older cousin she emulated. 

Eventually, the father and two girls moved to Warwick, where Brady worked her way through the University of Rhode Island and began funding her gambling addiction through student loan money, according to the memo. After graduating and having her own family,  Brady said she took charge of the family’s finances and was able to hide her gambling addiction while launching her own business, doing property preservations for homes in foreclosure. The memo states that Brady simply wanted to create the life she never had for her own children.

The documents — along with several interviews with Brady’s victims — also show a long trail of people who still feel betrayed by her actions. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Vilker, a longtime federal prosecutor who heads the criminal division in Rhode Island, prosecuted the case against Brady. He’s handled hundreds of other similar cases, but describes Brady’s actions as among the “most disturbing” in Rhode Island history because of how close she was to her victims. 

“What was universal throughout was the heartbreak,” Vilker says during a recent interview in his downtown Providence office, diagonally across from the federal courthouse where Brady was sentenced. 

“They could not, and still cannot, understand how she could do something like that, and the emotional betrayal really separates this case from any other fraud case I’ve ever handled,” he says.  

Yet it’s clear not everyone feels betrayed by the forty-seven-year-old mother of four. A review of more than a dozen letters submitted in support of Brady ahead of her sentencing shows several relatives and friends came to her defense. They argue Brady’s Ponzi scheme is a symptom of her uncontrollable gambling addiction. Beneath her addiction, they say, is a loving mom, a passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities and a devoted friend who never misses an opportunity to help others.

“Monique loves her children more than life itself,” wrote Brady’s sister. “And the fact that she overlooked that love and was willing to gamble her children’s future away tells me how deep of a hole she had fallen. That person is not my sister and not the Monique I know. It is someone with a serious gambling addiction who did not know how to climb out of the hole.”  

Her supporters aren’t wrong: A lot of the money did go to gambling, and many of Brady’s former friends who feel burned by her actions admit she always struggled with gambling. In fact, Brady spent so much time and money at casinos that many considered her a VIP customer, which earned her hotel stays and other perks. Records show big-spending visits to Mohegan Sun, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Florida and Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, Nevada, among others.


U.S. Government Photos. Monique Brady’s sentencing memo included photos of her on vacation with her ex-husband.

But there’s little sympathy from many of the thirty-plus victims who invested in Brady’s scheme. Adding insult to injury, many of them discovered after her arrest that it was their money that paid for the elaborate experiences, like travel and glamorous parties, they shared with her over the years.  

“Many of the victims, as close friends of Brady, accompanied Brady on trips, not knowing that their money was paying for these extravagances,” Vilker wrote in a 2020 sentencing memo. 

Brady’s scheming apparently didn’t end once she found herself locked up. Prosecutors have repeatedly accused Brady of breaking prison rules, manipulating fellow inmates and using a litany of legal complaints to try and secure early release, according to a review of federal court documents filed across multiple states.

The behavior raises doubts among prosecutors and victims that Brady feels any remorse for her crimes that bilked dozens, including some who lost their life savings.

“Monique’s attempts to get out of prison early are appalling,” says one of Brady’s victims, who wanted to remain anonymous and whose family is still owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution. “She is not remorseful, has not learned a thing and will continue to be a criminal and try to cheat any kind of system to make a quick dollar and appease herself.”  

A ‘Well-Executed and Concealed’ Scam 

A Cranston native, Vilker decided to become a federal prosecutor after finding himself “totally miserable” in private practice. He joined the U.S. Attorney’s Rhode Island office in 2002 to work on criminal cases, mostly involving fraud. 

Nearly two decades later, Monique Brady’s name came across his desk. The IRS reached out, flagging concerns about a significant amount of money that went into the Rhode Islander’s bank account but never ended up on her tax returns. 

“Initially, it was thought about potentially as a tax case,” Vilker says. But the theory quickly changed after investigators took a closer look.

On the surface, Brady’s scam was relatively simple: She took money under false pretenses from would-be investors and then used the funds for personal reasons. But the way she managed to convince more than thirty people to give her $10 million is far more complex and nuanced. 

“The actual scheme itself was complicated, it was sophisticated, it went on for a long period of time,” Vilker says. “It was well-executed and concealed, which is the type of pattern we see with different large-scale fraud cases.” 

Central to her scam was a business named MNB LLC, which had a stated purpose of fixing up foreclosed properties. Brady incorporated an earlier version of the company a few years after the financial crisis of 2008, when waves of Rhode Islanders were losing their homes to foreclosure.  


Pictures of Monique Brady’s $1 million home in East Greenwich were included in her sentencing memo.

Brady used her company to bid on projects to rehab the properties, a business idea that started out as legitimate. Her victims and former friends say they can’t pinpoint the exact time Brady’s life and business changed from legitimate to corrupt, but many suspect it was simply a matter of her lifestyle becoming more expensive than her means.

“Her legitimate business wasn’t making as much as she was spending,” says another victim, who also wanted to remain anonymous.  

Brady began turning to her friends and family, claiming she won lucrative contracts and would split the profit with them if they invested in the work. As it turns out, however, most of the time there wasn’t a contract or even any work, and she regularly hit up multiple friends for money to invest in the same fake project.

“They each thought they were the only ones who were investing in a particular property,” Vilker says. “Some of them were close friends with one another and for whatever reason they just didn’t discuss business together.”

Take 200 Messer St. in Providence, for example.

On Dec. 2, 2016, Brady asked a close personal friend to invest $43,025 to help rehab the multifamily home as part of a contract she claimed to have won through a competitive bidding process. 

That same day, she emailed a different acquaintance, asking the friend to invest $54,047 for the same work. In reality, there was no contract and the company performed only “minimal” work at the Messer Street property, according to court documents. 

“The actual scheme itself was complicated, it was sophisticated, it went on for a long period of time. It was well-executed and concealed, which is the type of pattern we see with different large-scale fraud cases.” —Lee Vilker 

Instead, federal investigators found the ill-gotten gains went toward Brady’s luxurious lifestyle. Beyond gambling, Brady used her friends’ money to pay for her million-dollar home, frequent vacations, plastic surgery and other luxury items, according to court documents. And because of her affinity for spending, Brady often received “luxurious treatment” from casinos, where she was “regularly provided with free suites, meals, transportation and tickets to sporting and entertainment events,” according to federal officials.

In total, Brady solicited investments at 171 different properties across multiple states. Of those projects, ninety-eight of them — roughly 57 percent — were properties where Brady did “no work whatsoever,” court documents show.

“The remainder were mostly low-dollar projects in which Brady falsely claimed to be receiving tens of thousands of dollars when she was in fact paid as little as $25,” Vilker says.

To dupe people into thinking the investment opportunities were legitimate, Brady fabricated and forwarded emails from other companies to make it look like the work was either real or lucrative. After obtaining the funding from friends, Brady then convinced them to “roll over” their investment into a new project, suggesting they would make an even greater return down the road.

In the event someone demanded their money back, Brady often “paid back some of the funds she received from one investor with monies received from another,” according to FBI special agent Pepper Daigler, one of the agents who began the investigation into Brady.

“In this way, Brady operated a Ponzi scheme,” prosecutors later said. 

Many of Brady’s victims still wonder how they never learned from one another about the scheme, especially because so many of them were involved. 

Some say she’s a master at compartmentalizing her friend groups and keeping them apart. When different friends did end up mingling — often at luxurious parties held at her East Greenwich home — the socialization was focused on having fun rather than business, they say. 

“We were never really all together at the same time,” says another victim, who requested anonymity due to fear of retribution.

On Feb. 11, 2020, U.S. District Court Chief Judge John McConnell Jr. accepted a deal in which Brady pleaded guilty to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and “corrupt endeavor to obstruct or impede” IRS laws. He ordered her to serve eight years in federal prison, and to pay back a combined $4.8 million to dozens of victims. 

Ten months later, Brady made her first attempt to get early release from prison. McConnell rejected the request, saying the significance of her crimes “cannot be overstated.” 

“Nothing has changed this court’s opinion about the seriousness of the offense, the callousness in which Ms. Brady committed the offense, or the tremendous betrayal of trust that she exhibited toward her friends and family that ‘invested’ with her,” McConnell wrote at the time.  

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