Articles Posted in Ponzi Scheme

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago-based securities and investment fraud law firm with offices throughout the Chicago-land area, is investigating claims made by the United States against Ronald T. Molo.  It is important to realize the allegations made by the US Attorney are unproven and Mr. Molo is entitled to a presumption of innocence until provide guilty.  Molo has been indicted on six counts of wire fraud, which means money was transmitted electronically for fraudulent purposes, simply put.  According to the indictment, Mr. Molo was a Financial Advisor for a “national financial services firm,” working from an office in Joliet.

According to his FINRA BrokerCheck Report, Mr. Molo was a licensed financial advisor with Edward Jones & Company from May 2001 to June 2021 when he was terminated for cause. According to Edward Jones, Mr. Molo was terminated because customer funds were transferred to outside accounts in his control after soliciting some purported investment opportunity.  The BrokeCheck Report also shows that Edward Jones has already paid out $875,000 to victims of this alleged fraud to settle claims.  The allegations in the indictment support the contentions made by Edward Jones when it terminated Mr. Molo.  According to the Indictment, Molo, who the grand jury found had fiduciary duties to his clients, falsely advised multiple clients that he had a good investment opportunity for them. The investment allegedly was some sort of tax-exempt, interest-bearing bonds.  He advised these clients that the investment opportunity would pay regular, periodic interest at 5%, that the interest would be tax-exempt, like a municipal bond, and was being offered through reputably investment houses like Lord Abbett, Spire Investment Partners, and Ivory Stone Investment Partners.  None of this was true, alleges the Indictment, and Molo knew his representations were untrue and made with intent to defraud. Molo had his clients, it has been alleged, execute authorizations to transfer funds from their Edward Jones accounts to an outside account, which unbeknownst to the victims, was an account Molo controlled personally.

This case is another example of a Ponzi scheme that lacks one of the most well-known hallmarks of one – the “it sounds too good to be true” concept.  Molo’s alleged scam offered 5% interest per year, not 50% or some other unrealistic on  its face return.  Many Ponzi schemes involve alleged investments that offer outlandish or unrealistic returns.  Bernie Madoff changed this perception and is one of the many reasons why his scheme lasted so long and did so much damage.  Bernie Madoff never provided outlandish returns to his clients, only stable, consistent returns for years.  Brokerage firms like Edward Jones have legal duties and responsibilities to supervise the conduct of their licensed representatives. The securities industry is heavily regulated at both the state and federal level, and many of these regulations have to do with supervision and compliance. Money being sent out of a client account to an unaffiliated 3rd party account is a huge red flag and implicates anti-money laundering rules and regulations, which are very serious issues for brokerage firms like Edward Jones.

Stoltmann Law Offices, a Chicago-based securities, investor, and consumer rights law firm has spoken to victims of the DeepRoot Funds scam and continues to investigate claims against third parties to recover these losses. On August 20, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint against Robert J. Mueller, DeepRoot Funds, LLC, Policy Services, Inc., and several other “relief defendants” alleging that Mueller and DeepRoot abused their roles as investments advisors to the two primary DeepRoot funds; the 575 Fund, LLC and the Growth Runs Deep Fund, LLC. The SEC flat-out alleges that Mueller used these funds as his personal piggy bank, including paying for weddings to wives number 2 and 3, and paying for the divorce from wife number 2.  Investors are likely looking at a total loss of funds invested amounting to nearly $58 million. Because the SEC has already gone after Mueller and the Funds, investors need to look for viable third parties that could have liability for investor losses.

The first and most obvious target for investors here would be the financial or investment advisor that solicited the transactions in the first place.  If your RIA or broker solicited you to invest in DeepRoot, it is almost certain this solicitation constituted a breach of fiduciary duty. RIAs will, with a straight face, ask clients in these situations rhetorically “how were we supposed to know?” Well, the investment advisor with the licenses, training, education, and statutory fiduciary duties to their clients are paid to know.  Whether your advisor is a FINRA registered broker or a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA), they have obligations to understand and know the products they sell to their clients.  On their faces, these DeepRoot Funds were unregistered, private, unproven, and speculative private-investment plays. Right there is enough information to disqualify these funds for investment by almost every retail investor in America.

To put it bluntly, the law obligates fiduciary investment advisors to understand the risks and characteristics of the investments they offer to their clients. Failing to do so constitutes a breach of a fundamental and basic duty. Investment advisors can be liable to their clients for this fundamental breach of duty. How are they supposed to know? They are paid to know and they are licensed professionals who are obligated to know whether the fund that are recommending uses investor funds to legitimately invest, or, as with DeepRoot, used investor funds to pay for divorces, a wedding, amongst other abuses.

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. is a Chicago-based securities and investor rights law firm that offers representation on a contingency fee basis to victims of investment fraud nationwide. On August 20, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a complaint in United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta) alleging that John Woods “has been running a massive Ponzi scheme for over a decade.” That is the first line of the complaint, which goes on to allege that more than 400 investors are owed over $110,000,000 on alleged investments in Horizon Private Equity Group, III, LLC.  The complaint also names Livingston Group Asset Management Company, d/b/a Southport Capital, which is a registered investment adviser firm owned and controlled by John Woods.

The sales pitch for these investments in Horizon promised returns of 6-7% interest guaranteed for 2 or 3 years.  These are not the sort of huge returns typically promised in a Ponzi scheme. In fact, these are pretty low returns when compared to the rate of return on the S&P 500 or even alternative investments like non-Traded REITs.  Ironically, now disgraced GPB Capital – which is also alleged by the SEC to be a massive Ponzi scheme, promised returns of 8%.  This sort of Ponzi scheme is more incendiary and falls into the Bernie Madoff category of promising lower, but consistent, rates of return. Investors who are victims of a Ponzi scheme promising 6-7% returns cannot say they should have known better because it was too good to be true.  Woods and his RIA represented that they would take investor funds and invest them in government bonds, stocks, and real estate projects. Investors were never told their money would be used to pay interest to earlier investors, which is what the SEC alleged they did on a massive scale. Horizon did not earn nearly enough returns through legitimate investments to pay investor interest payments and as such had to rely on new investor money to maintain those interest payments – a hallmark of a Ponzi scheme.

Victims need to look to potentially liable third parties for recovery while the SEC freezes Woods’ and Horizon’s assets and begins an accounting process that will likely take years.  The first target could be Oppenheimer.  According to the SEC complaint and FINRA, Woods was a registered representative for Oppenheimer until he was “asked to resign” in 2016 for failing to accurately disclose his involvement with Southport and Horizon. Many of his Oppenheimer clients invested in Southport and Horizon and unless Oppenheimer reached out to each of those clients and warned them that what Woods was doing was, at a minimum, not fully disclosed to Oppenheimer in violation of FINRA rules, then Oppenheimer could have liability to victims here.  Further, the SEC complaint states that Horizon primarily used two banks to move money, Bank of America and Iberiabank. They also used a custodial trust company.  These entities, depending on the details of their involvement, could also have liability to victims of this scam.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses in Ponzi schemes.  All of the most egregious swindles start out with a simple dual promise: High returns and no risk. That was the case with JJMT investments, which sold bogus promissory notes.

Started by fraternity brothers from Indiana University, JJMT lured investors with 30% to 40% returns on notes that financed movie deals in Hollywood.  According to Bloomberg, “Zachary Horwitz, a former actor, duped his old college friends and their families out of tens of millions of dollars. Three of Horwitz’s buddies from Indiana University said he tricked them into providing him with hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to fund bogus Latin American licensing deals with Netflix Inc. and HBO.”

From mid 2015 to late 2019, “JJMT Capital provided financing to Horwitz’s company 1inMM in exchange for promissory notes with a total principal value of approximately $485 million, Bloomberg stated. Horwitz’s company still allegedly owes investors “around $165 million before interest – including more than $42 million of their own money.”

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from fraudulent investments scams for over fifteen years.  Recently, common scams involve precious metals and the latest craze, cryptocurrency. When the price of any commodity goes up dramatically – from gold to digital cryptocurrencies – you can bank on the fact that scammers are pitching hard to lure investors into a trap. Many investments pitched on the internet fall into this murky pool.

The top threats to investors, not surprisingly, are Internet- and social-media based promotions, according to the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), a securities regulator trade association. These frauds are often pitched to owners of self-directed Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), many of which are tied to brokerage services.

“Self-directed individual retirement accounts, which lack the services and protection of traditional IRAs, can be fertile soil for scammers, especially those involving cryptocurrency-related and precious metals-based investments,” Investment News reported.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C., has represented hundreds of investors over the years in both arbitration and litigation against LPL Financial. Many of these claims involved situations where the financial adviser sold the investor an investment that ended up being a Ponzi-like scheme. Rhett Bedwell, it would seem, falls into that category of former LPL brokers who sold clients fraudulent investments.

According to published reports, Rhett Bedwell, of Rogers, Arizona, while a registered broker with LPL Financial allegedly transferred a client’s IRA to an IRA custodian, using forged documents, and invested the client’s IRA in a Ponzi scheme. According to regulatory documents filed by LPL Financial, Bedwell was under an internal investigation at the firm at the time he was “permitted to resign” and was also subject to customer complaints, event though there is only one customer complaint disclosed on his FINRA BrokerCheck Report.   On February 10, 2021, Bedwell signed a FINRA Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent (AWC) which barred him for life from the securities industry. By failing to respond to FINRA’s request for information in connection with a regulatory investigation, Bedwell sealed his professional fate.

In circumstances like this, investors need to realize the brokerage firm with whom the broker was registered, in this instance, LPL Financial, is legally responsible for his misconduct under two independent legal theories. First, as a licensed, registered financial adviser, anything Bedwell did as a financial adviser, is part of the scope and course of his agency with LPL Financial. Investors don’t sue the brokerage firm when brokers cause property damage, for example, because LPL is not responsible for what the firm’s brokers do outside of providing financial and investment advice. But in this circumstance, surely from the investor’s perspective, Bedwell was providing financial and investment advice at all times.  The second road that should be taken is a direct claim against LPL for negligent supervision.  The securities rules are clear and the obligations are rock solid that LPL must maintain adequate supervision and compliance over its brokers in order to prevent and to deter violations of state and federal securities laws. Either way, LPL can be liable for the misconduct of its brokers.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors who’ve stolen their money. Sometimes brokers are not the least bit subtle about what they do with clients’ assets. They may shift cash into separate accounts and spend it themselves.  Such was the case with Apostolos Pitsironis, a former Janney Montgomery Scott advisor. He is accused of stealing more than $400,000 from his clients from 2018-2019.

In the brokerage business, stealing clients’ funds is often known as “converting” their assets. Brokers may spend the money on gambling, cars or other consumption items. Pitsironis was “discharged in June 2019 after an internal investigation uncovered that the FA transferred funds via unauthorized ACHs from a client’s account to a third-party bank account owned and controlled by Pitsironis,” according to ThinkAdvisor.com. “He later used this money to pay his family’s personal expenses, all the while deceiving both his victims and the financial services firm for whom he worked,” prosecutors stated.  Pitsironis also allegedly spent his clients’ money on casino gambling debts, credit card bills and the lease of a luxury car.

“Janney is committed to serving our clients with the utmost integrity and trust,” the brokerage firm said in a statement obtained by ThinkAdvisor. “Upon discovering the improper actions taken by this advisor with one client account, he was promptly terminated, and the client was fully reimbursed. Janney has fully cooperated with law enforcement and will continue to do so.”

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors affiliated with the Cetera financial group.  The securities regulator FINRA recently fined three Cetera Financial Group broker-dealers $1 million, claiming that Cetera’s “supervisory systems and procedures were deficient when handling securities transactions.”

Like many advisory firms, Cetera employs representatives who are “dually registered,” meaning they are broker-dealers and registered investment advisers. In the Cetera case, their representatives managed more than $80 billion in assets across 47,000 accounts. According to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) exams conducted in 2013, 2015 and 2017, Cetera was “aware of the supervisory deficiencies.”

Without admitting or denying the allegations, Cetera recently signed a FINRA letter of Acceptance, Waiver, and Consent and agreed to FINRA’s sanctions, which included a censure and an agreement that they would review and revise, as necessary, systems, policies and procedures related to the supervision of dually-registered reps’ securities transactions, according to ThinkAdvisor.com.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented athletes who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors who have fleeced them. Just because a person is a professional athlete and makes tens of millions of dollars for playing a sport doesn’t mean they are financially sophisticated. Far too many great athletes fall prey to con men and advisors who rip them off.

Sadly, there’s a long list of athletes who’ve been defrauded by advisors. Some have achieved great fame in their sports such as boxer Mike Tyson, pitcher CC Sabathia, NBA great Kareem Abdul Jabbar and quarterbacks John Elway and Bernie Kosar. Sometimes all it takes is one crooked advisor to do a lot of financial damage. For example, major league pitchers Jake Peavy and Roy Oswalt and Quarterback Mark Sanchez had three things in common: They were well-paid athletes and shared the same financial advisor. Ash Narayan, an Irvine, California-based advisor with RGT Capital Management, pleaded guilty to defrauding the stars of some $30 million. Narayan was forced to pay nearly $19 million in restitution and serve 37 months in prison.

How were these pros swindled? Prosecutors stated that “from December 2009 to early 2016, he advised his clients to invest in a money-losing online sports and entertainment ticket company in Illinois (The Ticket Reserve, Inc.) without telling them that he was on the board, or that it was a risky and unprofitable business,” according to The Los Angeles Times.

Stoltmann Law Offices previously posted about Scott Wayne Reed, former broker at Wells Fargo Advisors, selling away to his customers, including customers of Wells Fargo. On December 15, 2020, the Arizona Corporation Commission filed a “Notice of Opportunity for Hearing Regarding Proposed Order to Cease and Desist, Order for Restitution, Order for Administrative Penalties, Order for Revocation and Order for Other Affirmative Action” against Reed, his wife, Sarah Reed, Pebblekick, Inc. and Don K. Shiroishi, the Chief Executive Officer and President of Pebblekick.

According to the ACC’s notice, Mr. Reed sold at least $3.5 million of investments in short-term, high-interest notes issued by Pebblekick. Mr. Reed sold these notes as offering an annualized rate of return of sixty-percent (60%). In turn, Pebblekick paid at least $191,340 to Reed. He sold these notes to clients as “100% safe” investments and represented that he also invested in Pebblekick. He went as far as personally guaranteeing $100,000 of the $200,000 investment made by one investor.Reed also sold other outside investment to customers, which he alleged were connected to Pebblekick, including but not limited to Precision Surgical, Mako Studio, and Ascensive Creator.

Reed was a registered representative of Wells Fargo Advisors at the time that he sold this investment, but did not disclose that he was selling notes in Pebblekick or that he received nearly $200,000 in commissions and fees for selling Pebblekick. According to the ACC, “when Reed’s firm reported him for potentially selling away and the Securities Division requested Reed to provide information and documents concerning the allegation, Reed impeded the Division’s investigation by providing responses that were false, incomplete, and misleading.”

CNBC
FOX Business
The Wall Street Journal
Bloomberg
CBS
FOX News Channel
USA Today
abc NEWS
DATELINE
npr
Contact Information