Articles Posted in Affinity Fraud

Stephen J. Hatch, the mastermind of a $70M Arizona Ponzi scam, has been sentenced to five years in prison. Hatch, who pleaded guilty to fraud, targeted Christian investors, causing many of them to lose their life savings.

As part of his plea deal, the Texas man agreed to pay back $1M to investors. Meantime, prosecutors agreed to not file criminal charges against Hatch’s children.

Many of his victims were family members and friends. Hatch persuaded 110 investors to back various real estate properties by promising double digit returns on land deals.

Continue reading

SEC Charges Man Accused of Running $10M Ponzi Scam
Mark Anderson Jones, whom the US Securities and Exchange Commission has charged with fraud, has been sentenced to 70 months in prison in a parallel criminal case. Jones pleaded guilty to running a $10M Ponzi scam.

According to the SEC, Jones solicited investors in a number of US states, as well as in Washington DC. He did this by issuing promissory notes, as well as providing personal guarantees to clients that were willing to invest in The Bridge Fund, which supposedly lent money to Jamaican businesses that were waiting to get commercial bank loans.

However, rather than investing their money the way he said he would, Jones used a portion of investors’ cash to pay his own expenses as well as make Ponzi payments.

Continue reading

The US Securities and Exchange Commission filed fraud charges against Larry Holley, a pastor with the Abundant Life Ministries in Flint, Michigan. According to the regulator, the pastor used faith-based verbiage to solicit investments from his targets in what he led them to believe was a successful real estate business with hundreds of commercial and residential properties. The SEC’s affinity fraud complaint said that Holley’s scam raised about $6.7M from over 80 investors who were promised high returns.

Holley allegedly held “Blessed Life Conferences” that were actually financial presentations at churches across the US. During these gatherings, he would ask congregants to disclose their financial holdings on cards he gave them to fill out and he promised to “pray over the cards.” He is said to have called investors “millionaires in the making.”

The SEC’s complaint also claims that Holley’s business associate, Patricia Enright Gray, targeted recently laid-off auto works who were given severance packages and she offered to consult with them to help grow their finances. She purportedly promised to roll over their retirement funds into tax-advantaged IRAS and invest their money in Treasure Enterprise, which was Holley’s company. She advertised her services on a religious radio station in Flint.

Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

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

More Blog Posts:
SEC Looking to Simplify Disclosure Rules to Minimize “Information Overload” for Investors, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, October 16, 2013

Puerto Rican Bond Crisis Places Oppenheimer Funds at Risk, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, October 15, 2013
Detroit Becomes Largest US City to File Bankruptcy Protection, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, July 18, 2013 Continue reading

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

More Blog Posts:

Colorado Securities Fraud: Universal Consulting Resources LLC and Owner Richard Dalton to Pay $15.8M to Settle SEC Lawsuit Over Ponzi Scam, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, December 9, 2011
Former Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC Employee Faces SEC Charges for Creating Fake Trades to Enable Ponzi Scam, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, November 23, 2011
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.

Contact Information