John Benkert's state police mugshot.

A local businessman and onetime Republican party activist is accused of bilking victims out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by persuading them to invest in nonexistent business schemes.

John Benkert, 48, of 139 Jeffrey Lane in Hurley was arrested by state police on April 2. He was charged with second- and third-degree larceny, felonies, as well as misdemeanor counts of forgery and possession of a forged instrument. According to police, the arrest followed a five-month investigation into Benkert’s alleged fraudulent business dealings which, cops believe, netted the former Kingston Republican Committee chairman at least $360,000. According to state police Investigator Joseph Auriemma, Benkert relied on friends and “word of mouth” to solicit money for a phony business venture.

“He uses a ruse to obtain funds by convincing people that they were participating in an investment or helping him with an investment,” said Auriemma. “There was no investment and people lost their money.”

Auriemma declined to give details of the scheme, citing the ongoing investigation. But records from the New York Department of State show that Benkert, who was an owner of All-Ways Moving and Storage until he sold his stake a few years ago, was associated with at least two limited liability companies (LLCs). Online postings, including one on the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce website, list Benkert as the proprietor of Black Pearl Associates LLC. His home address is listed as the business location. The Chamber of Commerce post touts Black Pearl as a “records management” service offering secure document storage and on-site shredding. State records also show Benkert as a principal in Whole Health Growers Inc.;139 Jeffrey Laneappears as the corporate headquarters of the company which was incorporated in March 2011. It is unclear what the company does, but state records at the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics show that Whole Health Growers engaged theAlbanylobbying firm Ostroff, Hiffa & Associates in 2011.

Benkert did not return a call to his home seeking comment.

A ‘green’ investment

Former Kingston GOP committee Chairman Tony Sinagra said that he was acquainted with Benkert from his days as an active committee member and onetime aldermanic candidate back in the 1990s. According to Sinagra, in recent years Benkert had approached him about investing in a pair of businesses, one Sinagra said, was a document-shredding operation. A second investment scheme, according to Sinagra, involved buying a warehouse and setting it up to grow medical marijuana in anticipation of a state law legalizing its use. Sinagra said that he passed on both offers.