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Feds Suspect Big WTC Money Grab

Federal prosecutors are investigating the reported disappearance of about $105 million from a Manhattan company that had offices in the World Trade Center.

The U.S. attorney in Brooklyn and U.S. Postal Service inspectors have begun an investigation into money reported missing from First Equity Enterprises, according to several published reports. A lawyer for two men described as witnesses confirmed those accounts on Sunday.

Before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that leveled the trade center, First Equity Enterprises had acted as a clearinghouse for Evergreen International Spot Trading, taking in funds, issuing statements to clients and disbursing money to those who wanted to cash out.

Sales agents and traders at Evergreen notified authorities after receiving complaints from customers that their requested account transactions were being ignored.

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Bill Muller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, would neither confirm nor deny the investigation. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service did not immediately return a call for comment.

"I can only confirm that a federal investigation is under way," said James McGuire, a Manhattan attorney representing two former Evergreen employees. He described his clients as witnesses in the investigation.

Between $105 million and $106 million is missing and belongs to 1,400 investors in 14 countries, according to reports in newspapers in Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.

First Equity representatives could not be reached Sunday. The listed telephone number for First Equity was not in service; no phone listing could be found for its president.

According to published reports, federal prosecutors obtained a warrant on Oct. 5 to seize funds connected with First Equity. One bank account in Melbourne, Australia, has been frozen, The Australian Financial Review, a business newspaper, reported on Oct. 19.

Muller refused to comment on whether any funds had been recovered or frozen. He also would not say whether arrest warrants had been issued for any employees of First Equity.

Two weeks ago, postal inspectors conducted searches with Evergreen's permission of its offices at 40 Wall Street, 61 Broadway and 730 Fifth Avenue, according to The New York Times.

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