Articles Tagged with affinity fraud

Investors are encouraged to watch out for “false prophets” that commit affinity fraud by targeting members of religious communities. CNBC posted an article about rampant religious-based fraud with securities attorney Jenice Malecki’s commentary for tonight’s new episode of true crime series American Greed. The episode, entitled “An Ungodly Scammer” will feature the story of convicted multimillion-dollar Ponzi Scheme fraudster Ephren Taylor, who targeted churchgoers. Ephren Taylor pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and sentenced to 235 months. In an interview for tonight’s premiering American Greed episode, Jenice Malecki comments on Ephren Taylor’s religious fraud with a warning for investors to be on the lookout for affinity fraud.

Ephren Taylor collected millions of dollars by traveling to megachurches in 43 states to solicit investors in his low-risk investments as part of his “Building Wealth” tour. In his visits, Ephren Taylor spoke of his status as a self-made multimillionaire from a young age to represent his credibility. Investors listened and believed as Ephren Taylor used religion to garner their funds through his “prosperity gospel” sales pitches. Ephren Taylor claimed to sell investors high yield promissory notes that would finance socially responsible ventures that included low-income housing projects. Instead, provided funds were being allocated to Ephren Taylor’s personal expenditures and occasional false “returns” to existing investors, as part of a Ponzi Scheme.

Now, victims of Ephren Taylors’ Ponzi Scheme are left distraught and defrauded out of millions of dollars in life savings after falling prey to his affinity fraud. Affinity fraud refers to an investment scam that targets members of identifiable groups based on shared commonalities. The affinity fraud perpetrator will leverage represented membership within the group to exploit trust and sell a fraudulent investment. Jenice Malecki told CNBC that in affinity situations, people would tend to be comfortable enough to blindly trust those that share membership within their church or ethnic communities. A famous example of this is Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme which raised billions through targeting Jewish communities.

Malecki Law attorney Jenice Malecki was on the set of business news network CNBC’s documentary true crime series American Greed yesterday to speak about affinity fraud for an upcoming episode. American Greed provides in depth-reporting exposing Ponzi Schemes, mortgage fraud, art heists, identity theft, and other shocking things people have done for money. For twelve seasons, American Greed has examined the most extensive corporate and white-collar crimes in American history. The documentary series currently airs new episodes on the CNBC network on Monday nights at 10 PM EST.

In the interview, Jenice Malecki leveraged her knowledge as an experienced securities attorney to answer questions about affinity fraud. Affinity fraud is a type of investment scam that targets members of the same identifiable groups based on religion, ethnicity, age and other commonalities.  Typically, an affinity fraud perpetrator will be or at least pose as a member of the group to exploit trust and relationships. Otherwise, the fraudster might elicit the help of a group member to orchestrate the scam, which is frequently a Ponzi or pyramid scheme.

In this segment, Jenice Malecki describes affinity fraud along with the telltale signs that should induce concern. Notably, Jenice Malecki emphasizes the importance for investors to do their due diligence in gathering information before investing. With this in mind, the seller should be able to provide information regarding the investment’s purpose, objective data, and history. Furthermore, Jenice Malecki offers helpful tips for anyone suspecting affinity fraud to respond appropriately to the situation.

Malecki Law is investigating potential claims by investors relating to Dennis C. Lee, a former AXA Advisors, LLC broker who was recently terminated by the firm in April 2015.  According to Mr. Lee’s publicly available Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) BrokerCheck report, he was “discharged for failing to disclose financial issues requiring Form U4 amendments, mismarking trade tickets, and placing securities trades away from AXA.”  If substantiated, each of these failings could be potentially serious violations of securities laws and rules.

According to Mr. Lee’s BrokerCheck report, he has had other legal issues, including one FINRA Arbitration proceeding that was filed by a customer in February 2015 alleging that he made unsuitable investment recommendations, transferred funds to a new account without the customer’s knowledge or consent, engaged in unauthorized trading and submitted policy documents containing a forged signature.  The BrokerCheck report also details two settlements between Mr. Lee and American Express and Ballys Park Place Casino Resort.

It is believed that other investors may have been misinformed about trading that may have taken place in their accounts that were managed by Mr. Lee.  It is further believed that Mr. Lee may have used his ethnicity and religious background to obtain clients.  The SEC has cautioned investors against affinity fraud, which refers to investment scams that prey on members of religious or ethnic communities, the elderly or other professional groups.  More information regarding affinity and other investment-related fraud can be found on the Malecki Law website.

Another oil and gas venture domino falls.  The Securities and Exchange Commissions (SEC) released a press release on July 6, 2015 announcing charges brought against Luca International, a California based oil and gas company, and Bingqing Yang, the company’s CEO.  The SEC charged Luca and Ms. Yang with running an alleged $68 million Ponzi scheme and affinity fraud against the Chinese-American community in California and elsewhere.

The SEC alleged that Ms. Yang knew the company was failing, but misrepresented the projected returns of the company as 20-30% annually.  Ms. Yang allegedly also commingled funds and diverted $2.4 million through a separate offshore entity to purchase a home and pay for personal expenses.

Ms. Yang allegedly relied on two tactics: affinity fraud and Chinese citizens who sought to immigrate to the United States through the EB-5 visa program, which grant green cards for making certain investments in U.S. companies.  Other Luca employees were also reported to be implicated in the fraud.  Additionally, the SEC’s press release noted that in a separate administrative action, Wisteria Global and one Hiroshi Fujigami settled charges that they acted as brokers for the Luca entities and were to disgorge ill-gotten gains of more than $1.1 million.