Articles Posted in Affinity Fraud

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is suing Earl D. Miller for securities fraud. According to the regulator, the Indiana man bilked investors, many of whom were Amish and new to investing, through private investment vehicles 5 Star Capital LLC and 5 Star Commercial LLC.

The SEC says Miller began recruiting investors last year. The private investment entities he created were supposed to invest in real estate property and green products with patents that one of the companies owned. However, claims the regulator, no patents were actually owned. Instead, contends the agency, the money went to companies that were supposedly developing other products, including energy-efficient washing machines and a pedal-run wheelchair. The bulk of these investments quickly failed. Most of the funds were invested in loans and were supposed to result in interest payments every month. However, such payments only were issued for five months and then they stopped completely.

Miller marketed his investment services in Amish newspapers and in Amish community meetings. He gave investors promissory notes for their money. The notes came with a fixed 8-12%/year return rate, which is a lot higher than the rates for other fixed-return investments, including bank deposits. He also purportedly said he was not paid any money for managing the fund even though he allegedly took $1M for his own spending. At least 70 investors were bilked.
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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is accusing Leroy Brown Jr. of Texas securities fraud. Brown, a U.S. army veteran, allegedly solicited ex- and current members of the military and others to invest with him and his firm LB Stocks and Trades Advice.

Among his purported wrongdoings are presenting his firm as SEC- and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority-registered, when it is neither, touting himself as holding all securities licenses, which he does not, and creating a bogus sense of success and legitimacy via numerous misrepresentations to get people to invest. Brown also allegedly persuaded investors to buy $1,000 membership certificates in the firm’s stocks to get involved in purported investments in undeveloped real estate that were purportedly “guaranteed” to double or even triple their money. Instead, said the SEC, he took investors’ funds and placed the cash in his own accounts. The Commission believes the Texas securities scam has gone on for about sixteen months.

Affinity Scams

The North American Securities Administrators Association has issued its yearly list of the top investor threats. The list is compiled through a poll of its member state securities administrators. With the enactment of Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, which takes away the advertising restrictions when it comes to soliciting securities and other investments, now more than ever investors should be cautious.

The List:
Private Offerings (especially fraudulent private placement offerings, also known as Reg D/Rule 506 offerings): These are limited investment offers that are very liquid, poorly regulated, and have very little transparency. They are risky and might not be suitable for individual investors. Now, with the JOBS Act, these private placement offerings can be promoted to the general public, which means ads for them may be placed on billboards, social media, and other platforms even though not everyone who sees them is qualified to invest.

REITs: Real estate investment scams may involve new development projects or buying, or beleaguered properties. Non-traded real estate investment trusts that are owned by banks or waiting for foreclosure or short-sale can be problematic for customers, as can investment funds purportedly tied to interest in real property that has no equity and is very leveraged.

Ponzi Scams and High-Yield Investments: High-yield typically translates to greater risk. This type of investment program and Ponzi scams promise great returns and low risk while justifying why the opportunity is so great. Financial fraudsters will typically tout bogus credentials or belong to a certain organization or group and early investors get a return as they market to new investors. Such financial scams eventually collapse.

Affinity Fraud: This type of financial fraud targets members of a particular organization or group. Often, the fraudster is trusted because of the shared affiliation (ie. age demographic, membership, alma mater, ethnicity, religion, etc.)

Self-Directed IRAs Used to Cover up Fraud: Self-directed individual retirement accounts, which are typically safe investments, can be used to conceal a financial scam. Fraudsters may claim that the custodian of an account has more obligations than actual to investors, causing the latter to wrongly believe that their investments are protected from loss and/or legitimate.

High Risk Oil and Gas Drilling Programs: Energy investments that for some investors are becoming a preference over traditional bonds, stock, and mutual funds. They are very risky and really only appropriate for investors that can take huge losses. Unfortunately, some promoters will hide these risks and pressure customers to invest.

Proxy Trading Accounts: This can involve allowing individuals who say that they are experienced traders to manage or set up a trading account for you. It is not recommended for investors to let unlicensed persons have access to your brokerage account information or set up an account for you. Anyone who manages such an account for an investor should be properly registered and have a clean record.

Digital Currency: Virtual money such as PP Coin, Bitcoin, and others. Such coinage isn’t backed by tangible assets, not subject to a lot of regulation, and not government issued. Digital currencies’ value can be very volatile.

NASAA’s Top Investor Threats, North American Securities Administrators Association
Securities and Exchange Commission

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority

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The Securities and Exchange Commission has secured an emergency order to stop a hedge fund scam run by ex-marine Clayton A. Cohn and his Market Action Advisors, a hedge fund management firm that is registered in Illinois. The regulator contends that Cohn pretended to be a be a successful trader and purposely targeted current military, other veterans, friends, relatives, and other unsophisticated investors, defrauding them of nearly $1.8 million.

Per the SEC, Cohn lied about his trader track record, the hedge fund’s performance, his intended use of investors’ proceeds, and his own stake in the fund. He invested less than 50% of investors’ funds, while using over $400,000 for personal spending, including a luxury vehicle, a mansion in Hollywood, and expensive visits to fancy nightclubs. To conceal his fraud and keep collecting investor money, Cohn allegedly created bogus hedge fund accounts statements reporting yearly returns greater than 200%.

The Commission filed its Illinois hedge fund fraud lawsuit in federal court in Chicago. The regulator says that Cohn ran Market Action Capital Management, which is a hedge fund, via Market Action Advisors. The regulator is charging him and his firm with federal securities law antifraud provision violations. The SEC wants permanent injunctions, financial penalties, and disgorgement of ill-gotten gains.

Credit Suisse & J.P. Morgan to Pay $400M Over RMBS Misstatements

In SEC v. J.P. Morgan, the financial firm is accused of allegedly misstating information related to approximately 620 subprime mortgage loans’ delinquency status. The loans gave collateral for a $1.8M residential mortgage-backed securities offering that J.P. Morgan (JPM) underwrote six years ago and from which it was paid over $2.7 million in fees while investors lost at least $37 million. Now, the firm has agreed to pay nearly $297M to settle the allegations (without denying or admitting to them). The Commission is also accusing J.P. Morgan-owned Bear Stearns Cos. LLC of failing to disclose from 2005 to 2007 that it kept financial settlements from mortgage loan originators on problem loans that it sold into RMBS trusts.

Also settling RMBS Misstatement allegations with the regulator is Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC. In an administrative order, the SEC claims that between 2005 and 2010 the financial firm did not accurately disclose that it would keep cash from claims it settled against mortgage loan originators for issues involving loans that it had sold into RMBS trusts. Credit Suisse also allegedly misled investors about when it intended to buy back loans from trusts if those that borrowed did not make the initial payment. The firm has agreed to settle for $120M and is also not denying or admitting to the allegedly negligent conduct.

The SEC has charged Wendell A. Jacobson and his son Allen R. Jacobson with securities fraud. The two men allegedly ran a $220M Ponzi scam under the guise of selling investments in their real estate business. The Commission claims that father and son violated sections of the Securities Act of 1933, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and Rule 10b-5 thereunder.

The Jacobsons are accused of presenting investors with a chance to place their money in LLC in return for partial ownership in apartment communities that were located in a number of states. The two men, who belonged to Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, solicited other members to invest.

The father and son claimed to have bought apartment complexes at discount prices. They said they would renovate the units, enhance management, and resell properties in 5 years. Investors were told they would be paid their shares in monthly rentals and the future resales.

Per the securities complaint, the father and son team got over $220M from about 225 investors. Securities were sold as investment contracts. No registration statement was submitted to the SEC, which is required under federal securities law.

The Utah securities scam was operated under the umbrella company Management Solutions, Inc. The SEC says the two men behaved as unregistered brokers who made false claims when they told investors that their investment’s principal was safe. They also allegedly misrepresented how the money would be used. Meantime, investors were told that they would get 5-8% annual returns and resale profits.

In fact, says the SEC, not only were the LLCs sustaining major losses, but also the Jacobsons were using investor money to pay for their personal and business expenses. They were also using new investors’ money to and pay earlier investors. The Jacobsons used the Ponzi scam to cause investors, who were getting “returns,” to think that the LLCs were making a profit.

Beginning last year, investors were told that properties were sold and they had made a profit when no sales actually occurred. Instead, the “sales” were used to move investors from and into specific properties.

The SEC is seeking disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, financial penalties, and prejudgment interest.

SEC Halts Father-Son Ponzi Scheme in Utah Involving Purported Real Estate Investments, SEC, December 15, 2011
Mormons fleeced in $220M investment scam: SEC, Investment News, December 16, 2011

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SEC Issues Emergency Order to Stop $26M “Green” Ponzi Scam, Institutional Investor Securities Fraud, October 13, 2011 Continue reading

Texas Securities Commissioner Benette L. Zivley wants investors to be aware that fraudsters are now using the Internet as a vehicle for their investment schemes. Online social networking Websites, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Linked in, are among the sites being used to find potential victims, gain access to their personal information, and build relationships of “trust.” Scammers have even been known to purposely “mimicking” a target’s interests to try and get someone to invest. Considering that about 750 million users (who on average are linked to about 80 groups, community pages, and events) are logging 700 billion minutes a month on Facebook alone, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Affinity fraud scams are among the easier investment schemes to perpetuate online. This type of financial scam usually targets professional organizations, community service groups, religious communities, and other social networks. Whereas in the real world, a fraudster would have to work to establish actual connections with its target communities, now he/she can easily become part of these groups by pretending to share similar interests, religions, careers, or hobbies.

Online media channels, such as YouTube have now also become video forums through which to market financial scams. Remember, anyone can record an impressive sales pitch or edit professional looking footage to make themselves appear legitimate.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Jody Dunn with fraud. Dunn is accused of soliciting $3.45 million from over 7,000 deaf investors in a Texas securities scam. He is also deaf. According to the SEC, he engaged in material misrepresentations, the fraudulent and unregistered offering and selling of securities, and the misappropriation of investor funds.

Per the commission, Dunn told investors he would place their money with Imperia Invest IBC, which guaranteed returns of 1.2% a day. He solicited investments for Imperia between August 2007 and July 2010.

While he did send the send the remaining funds to the Imperia-owned offshore accounts, he never confirmed that the financial firm was really investing the money-even though he allegedly knew that Imperia lost investor funds and wasn’t properly crediting clients’ accounts. Dunn also never paid investors the interest they were owed and he failed to tell them that his fee was more than 10% of the money he collected from them.

Last year, the SEC charged Imperio with involvement in a $7 million fraud scam and secured a court order freezing the internet-based firms assets. The SEC claims that Imperia defrauded approximately 14,000 investors, who were told that they could only obtain their money by paying a few hundred dollars for a Visa debit card. Apparently, however, the financial firm did not have ties Visa and it never paid any money back to its victims.

In the commission’s complaint against Dunn, it is accusing him of making a number of misrepresentations to investors including:

• Claiming he would help them get into Traded Endowment Policies (viatical settlements) by having them invest through Imperia even though none of their money was used to buy TEPs.

• Claiming he knew the people behind Imperia even though he had never met anyone affiliated with the financial firm.

• Not being able to give an accurate analysis of the way he calculated profits or fees.
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TEPs or Viatical Settlements
With TEPs, the insurance policy owner sells the policy before it matures. These are sold at a discount but in an amount greater than the current cash surrender value. All beneficial obligations then go to the new owner. Investors of the Imperia-offered TEP investments had to put in at least $50 for an $80,000 loan from a foreign bank. The funds were then supposed to go toward buying a TEP. The SEC is accusing Dunn of violating sections of the Securities Act and sections of the Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5 thereunder.

SEC Charges Solicitor in Investment Scheme Targeting Deaf Community, SEC, September 9, 2011
Texan defrauded deaf investors out of $3.45M, Investment News, September 12, 2011
Read the SEC Complaint (PDF)

SEC Charges Internet Company With Defrauding the Deaf, New York Observer, October 7, 2010

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According to the US Attorney for the Western District of Missouri Beth Phillips,two ministers, a Waco, Texas minister and the other from Kansas City, Kansas, have pleaded guilty to participating in a $7.2M security fraud scheme that caused thousands of investors in Canada and the US to sustain losses. The investors had purchased shares in Petro America Corporation, which was reputed to have $284 billion in assets, including gold mines.

The two men are Texas minister Joseph Harrell and Kansas Minister Edward D. Halliburton. They pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud. They also admitted that they and others conspired together to obtain money through the bogus sale of the stock and the issuing of misrepresentations and omissions. Both men made almost $400,000 from the stock sales, selling millions of shares despite knowing that both Kansas and Missouri had put out cease and desist orders forbidding the sale of unregistered Petro stock.

Harrell, who acted as Petro America’s CFO, was affiliated with Ministers Alliance, of which Halliburton was President. The alliance was comprised of about 15 ministers who promoted and supported Petro American, sold shares to congregants, and called themselves the “White Hat Guys.” They even conducted weekly in-person meetings at a Denny’s and took part in regular calls with hundreds of investors in many US states.

Harrell, who sold stock to at least 90 investors reportedly laced many of his sales pitches with religious wording and claimed that Petro was a blessing from God. He has admitted to knowing that the company was fraudulent. He acknowledges giving investors information that was not complete and also misleading. Harrell said he agreed to sell the stock because he wanted to make a profit. According to the Justice Department, even as he was bilking investors and renting cars at $423/week, he was availing of food stamp benefits and Social Security disability.

Related Web Resources:

Texas minister’s scam had him living the high life — while collecting food stamps, June 17, 2011
Kansas City, Kansas and Texas Ministers Plead Guilty to Securities Fraud Conspiracy, Infozine, June 15, 2011

Related Web Resources:
Texas Foreign Currency Trader and Developer of “Alpha One” Convicted of Securities Fraud, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, June 15, 2011
District Court in Texas Decides that Credit Suisse Securities Doesn’t Have to pay Additional $186,000 Arbitration Award to Luby’s Restaurant Over ARS, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, June 2, 2011
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U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a securities fraud lawsuit against investment firm GTF Enterprises Inc., money manager Gedrey Thompson, and associates Sezzie Goodluck and Dean Lewis. The SEC claims that GTF and Thompson targeted investors from the African-American and Caribbean communities in Brooklyn, NY. The affinity fraud scam bilked at least 20 investors of over $800,000 between 2004 and 2009.

The SEC claims that Thompson convinced clients to invest the money in GTF in exchange for lucrative investment returns with guaranteed safety of principals and other promises. He then went on to invest a “fraction” of the clients’ funds (losing thousands of dollars in the process), while using hundreds of thousands of their dollars to pay for his own expenses. The affinity fraud scheme cost some investors their life savings.

Among the multiple misrepresentations that the SEC says Thompson made to investors was the claim to one client that her investment was “150% guaranteed.” He allegedly told another investor that he could make him a millionaire. Thompson and GTF allegedly covered up the securities fraud by generating bogus quarterly account statements for clients. Goodluck and Lewis are accused of helping Thompson with his investment scheme.

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