Articles Tagged with ponzi scheme

Patrick Churchville of Rhode Island has been accused of orchestrating a $21 million Ponzi scheme and was recently sentenced to 7 years in prison by a federal judge, according to an Investment News report. Mr. Churchville is thefinancial-fraud-300x200 owner and president of ClearPath Wealth Management and according to SEC’s complaint, he allegedly diverted funds from investors to pay older investors, used their funds as collateral for loans or converted investments to benefit ClearPath Wealth Management. According to the news report, he allegedly used $2.5 million of borrowed money to buy a lavish waterfront home in Rhode Island.

Mr. Churchville started running his Ponzi scheme 2010 onwards and like in any Ponzi scheme, he added to his net worth at the cost of his victims, who lost their homes and all their savings. One of his victims was left on food stamps and needed heating assistance by the end of it, and others were forced back into the workforce in their retirement years. U.S. District Court Chief Judge William E. Smith called the whole scheme a “tragedy”. Churchville allegedly pleaded guilty to five counts of wire fraud and one of tax fraud for failing to pay more than $820,000 in taxes. He has also reportedly been ordered to pay restitution to his 114 victims although the number is unspecified.

Being victimized by financial fraud not only means lost savings but can completely wreak someone’s life and strain personal relationships. At Malecki Law, we regularly help victims of Ponzi scheme get justice and restitution. If you suspect a financial advisor or brokerage firm has been taking advantage of you or your loved ones, reach out for legal advice.

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  • Salesperson seems to openly live a lavish lifestyle: The most famous Ponzi schemers have been infamous for their extravagant lifestyles. Scott Rothstein, the mastermind in a $1.2million Ponzi scheme said, “We were living like rock stars; private jets, massive amounts of money. There were lots of things that kept fueling that,” in his 2011 deposition testimony (reported in Forbes 2014). Be cautious if you are approached by a broker or advisor who fits the bill. As an extra precautionary measure, check your broker out on FINRA’s BrokerCheck.
  • Their marketing/ sales documents look like they could have come out of a printer in their home! Robert Van Zandt, known as the Bernie Madoff of Bronx, who was criminally prosecuted for running a Ponzi scheme, distributed homespun brochures that said “Learn to Earn 9% On Your Investment.” The quality of their marketing materials could be a good indication of the credibility of the investment.
  • “Guarantees” with high returns: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Look out for buzzwords like “High Return” or “Risk-Free” Investments. But in reality no investment is risk-free. In fact, higher probability of return is usually associated with higher risks, according to the risk-reward tradeoff principle. So if you are offered a guaranteed high return investment with no risks, the chances are that you are dealing with a financial scam.

On July 1, 2015, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) accepted settlement offers from brokers Jonah Engler, Hector Perez, Jonathan Michael Sheklow and Joshua William Turney for their roles in selling fraudulent investments to 59 customers.  According to FINRA’s Orders Accepting Offers of Settlement, these individuals sold $3 million worth of Senior Secured Zero Coupon Notes issued by a company called Metals, Milling and Mining LLC.  Mr. Engler himself has settled 11 customer complaints over the years, according to the FINRA CRD system.  The Orders state that each of the brokers has been barred from associating with any FINRA member in the future.

As reported in the Orders, the Notes were sold upon misrepresentations that they would return 100% within one year by extracting valuable minerals left over from mining operations.  The Orders detailed that all investors, except for three, lost all of the money they invested, with those three investors being repaid with money from new investors, a classic sign of a Ponzi scheme.

The Order stated that the company that issued the notes was partially owned or controlled by a Managing Partner of the brokerage firm that the above brokers worked for.  When a brokerage firm owns a company that issues securities, this may create a conflict of interest between the broker-dealer and the customer, because the securities may be recommended in order for the brokerage firm to make money, and not because it is suitable or in the best interest of the customer.

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.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced today that is has formally charged Malcolm Segal with running a Ponzi scheme and stealing investor money from his office in Pennsylvania.  According to his BrokerCheck Report, Mr. Segal was formerly a registered stockbroker with Aegis Capital Corp. and Cumberland Advisors.  Mr. Segal reportedly was a partner in J&M Financial and the president of National CD Sales.

According to the SEC, Mr. Segal allegedly sold what he called certificates of deposit (CDs) to his brokerage customers under the false pretense that he could get them a higher rate of interest than was then available through banks.  Mr. Segal allegedly represented to his victims that his CDs were FDIC insured and risk-free. Mr. Segal reportedly defrauded at least fifty investors out of roughly $15.5 million.

As his scheme was unravelling, Mr. Segal allegedly began to steal from his customers’ brokerage accounts by falsifying fraudulent paperwork such as letters of authorization. This fake paperwork reportedly allowed Mr. Segal to withdraw funds from his customers’ accounts without them knowing.  Ultimately, in July 2014, the scheme collapsed completely.  Mr. Segal has since been barred from the securities industry by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

It was recently reported that Keith M. Rogers, formerly employed by GLS & Associates, Inc., a FINRA broker-dealer, has been indicted and held on $2 million bond on securities fraud charges, where it was reported that he took investors’ money to pay for personal expenses and repay other investors, a classic Ponzi scheme scenario.  Previously, it was reported that Mr. Rogers was ordered by the Alabama Securities Commission to cease and desist from dealing in securities in the State of Alabama.  In September 2014, Mr. Rogers apparently consented to a bar from the securities industry was barred from the securities industry by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for failing to cooperate in FINRA’s investigation into Mr. Roger’s alleged diversion of customer funds away from GLS brokerage accounts.  According to the Administrative Order filed by the Alabama Securities Commission Mr. Rogers facilitated transactions in a company called R&P Development LLC from 2009 through 2013, when he was registered by GLS & Associates, Inc. and Warren Averett Asset Management.

FINRA specifies strict rules on a broker’s ability to solicit business to businesses that are not run by their employing broker-dealer.  Malecki Law attorneys have seen instances where employing broker-dealers fail to properly supervise a broker’s activities.  According to FINRA Rules, Broker-dealers like GLS & Associates Inc. have an important non-delegable duty to supervise the conduct of their financial advisors and employees.  The firm may be held liable for customer losses if the firm failed to properly supervise their employees.  If a broker violates FINRA Rules or securities laws, both the broker and the broker’s employing firm may be held liable for the customer’s losses.

Malecki Law has previously represented many investors successfully in FINRA arbitration proceedings involving outside business activities and firms’ failures to supervise their registered representatives and financial advisors.  If you believe you have suffered losses as a result of questionable actions taken in your securities account, please contact us immediately for a confidential consultation.