Barred Broker Hank Brock Pleads Guilty to $10 Million Tax Fraud Scheme

Henry (“Hank”) Brock of St. George, Utah pleaded guilty on Monday to tax evasion, securities fraud and wire fraud. According to the Department of Justice press release, Brock sold fraudulent tax-avoidance and investment strategies to his clients through a financial services company he ran called Mutual Benefit International Group, Ltd.  and through its subsidiaries, Brock Seminars LLC, and MB Holdings BVI, LLC.  The DOJ alleged that as president of Mutual Benefit Brock marketed a fraudulent tax scheme investment called “IRA Exit Strategy” to potential investors through seminars, phone calls, mailings, emails and online ads from 2009 through 2017.

According to the Felony Information that was filed on October 17, 2017, Brock promised investors that this IRA Exit Strategy would help them to avoid paying taxes on IRA withdrawals, which are normally subject to IRS penalties and taxes. Specifically, Brock gave his clients tax forms which falsely showed they were investors in his business, and that the company had incurred substantial losses.  These losses were then used to offset tax liabilities from their IRA withdrawals on fraudulent income tax returns that they were instructed to file with the IRS.

According to the Department of Justice, Brock fraudulently raised over $10.8 million by making false representations to investors regarding this “IRA Exit Strategy,” and by misrepresenting the financial condition of his company and other matters.  On at least one occasion the DOJ alleges Brock transferred $196,323 of a client’s investment funds and used the money for his own personal and business expenses.

Brock faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for tax evasion, 20 years in prison for securities fraud and 20 years in prison for wire fraud. He will also be ordered to pay restitution and monetary penalties.  Sentencing is scheduled for March 5, 2018 before U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart.

This is not the first time that Brock has had run-ins with government regulators.  In April of 2006 he entered into a Stipulation and Consent Order with the Utah Division of Securities, which is obtainable through a government records (GRAMA) request.  As part of  that settlement Brock was barred from associating with a broker-dealer or investment adviser licensed in the State of Utah – for life.

He was also specifically prohibited from “advising individuals in any way regarding the sale, promotion or purchase of securities; and presenting seminars in order to solicit business for, or otherwise make referrals to, for any form of compensation, any broker-dealer, agent, investment adviser or investment representative licensed in Utah.”

It is unclear to me whether Brock violated the terms of his settlement with the state when he solicited investors for Mutual Benefit, but I assume the state is looking into that possibility.

Although this 2006 settlement is no longer available on the Division of Securities’ online database, the fact that Brock has been permanently barred from selling securities is disclosed on FINRA’s website brokercheck.com.  It is always a good idea to run a search on Broker Check before doing business with anyone in the financial services industry.

Mr. Brock is also somewhat infamous for a lawsuit he filed against the Utah Division of Securities in 2010 for $357.6 million.  In the lawsuit he an another man, Jay Rice, accused state regulators of targeting them without proof of wrongdoing in an over-zealous campaign to bring down securities violators. They claimed that they were put out of business and forced to declare bankruptcy as a result of the agency’s actions. “They destroyed my reputation maliciously and wholly without cause,” Mr. Brock said in an interview at the time. “ Among the claims in the lawsuit are allegations that the Securities Division bribed Mr. Rice’s clients, went through Mr. Brock’s computers without permission and sent out a press release announcing the action to bar him from the securities industry that contained false information.

U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell initially dismissed the case in July 2010 based on governmental immunity, but then the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded just the portion of the case alleging violations of their state constitutional rights.

If you lost money or are facing IRS penalties after working with Hank Brock of Mutual Benefit International Group please share your story in the comments below.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark W. Pugsley. All Rights Reserved.

 

Former Salt Lake City Councilman and LDS Stake President Eric Jergensen Convicted in New York

Last week former Salt Lake City councilman and former LDS Stake President Eric Jergensen was convicted of conspiring to defraud an aerospace company of $2.5 million.  A New York jury returned the guilty verdict after a seven-day trial in U.S. District Court in Syracuse, NY. Jergensen and another man, Debashis Ghosh of Chicago Illinois, face a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  They may also be ordered to pay restitution to their victims.

The two men were convicted of conspiring to defraud the Laurentian Aerospace Corporation of $2.5 million.  Acting United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith stated: “Jergensen and Ghosh stole $2.5 million from a group of people who founded Laurentian with the hope of building a new business in the North Country.  Jergensen and Ghosh quickly gained their victims’ trust, and just as quickly abused it by taking their money and then lying to them about what had occurred.  They strung their victims along for years with false promises that their money would be returned.  Yesterday’s verdict brought them to justice, brought justice to their victims, and demonstrates our commitment to investigating and prosecuting financial crime.”

Jergensen and Ghosh were officers of Verdant Capital Group, LLC.   Laurentian retained Verdant to raise funds for the construction of an airplane maintenance facility to be built in Plattsburgh, New York.  Jergensen and Ghosh asked Laurentian to invest $2.5 million as seed money for the project, and promised to retein the money in a Wells Fargo account.  Soon after Laurentian wired $2.5 million into the Wells Fargo account  Jergensen and Ghosh began transferring the money out of the account without Laurentian’s authorization.

For several years after the money had been used, the men assured Laurentian and its investors that their money was safe and secure.  Jergensen even forged a memorandum of understanding showing that the money was still in the bank.  The government also showed at trial that the defendants  misappropriated an additional $2.4 million in funds that other businesses had entrusted to them.

I didn’t see any evidence that any of the victims were members of Jergensen’s stake so this story doesn’t appear to have an affinity fraud angle. Feel free to share your story in the comments below if that is incorrect.

There have been, however, stories in the local press about his financial difficulties that anyone who was considering doing business could have found through a simple Google search.  In 2009 the Salt Lake Tribune reported on several embarrassing headlines and suggested that these troubles were the reason he decided not to seek a third term on the city council.  At the time he had two bench warrants issued against him in 3rd District Court involving his business. He told the paper he had resolved a $98,000 debt his company owed to an Ogden businessman and was working to repay a $120,000 loan from local businessman Kem Gardner, former president of The Boyer Co.

Jergensen served on the Salt Lake City Council from 2001 through 2009, representing Capitol Hill and the Avenues. He also served as head of Salt Lake City’s redevelopment agency.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark W. Pugsley.  All rights reserved.

Confessed Fraudster Thomas Andrews Has Been Sentenced to 97 Months in Prison

As a follow-up to my prior story about a shocking small town fraud scheme that occurred in Nephi, Utah.  Yesterday the confessed perpetrator of that scheme, Tom Andrews, was sentenced to 97 months in prison.  This is the maximum sentence Judge Sam could have imposed. Hopefully others who might consider starting up a scheme like this will think twice when they see this significant prison sentence. This story about the sentencing appeared in the Deseret News today:

Judge comes down hard on former Nephi man in affinity fraud case

SALT LAKE CITY — A Sanpete County dairy owner told a federal judge Thursday that he’d be happy to have the man who stole his retirement money do some time on his farm.

Bob Bown said Tom Andrews needs to do some physical labor, get his hands dirty, rake manure out of stalls. “One of the best things that could happen to him is to do some hard work,” Bown said.

U.S. District Judge David Sam agreed thprison_mainat it would be “wonderful” if Andrews could “get some calluses to earn a buck,” but federal rules prevented him from imposing such a penalty.

The judge, however, sentenced Andrews to 97 months in prison — the maximum under sentencing guidelines — after the former Nephi man admitted to securities fraud and mail fraud. Sam, who rejected an earlier plea deal as too lenient, said he would have ordered a longer prison term if he could. Sam also ordered him to pay $8.3 million in restitution.

Sam then made the rare move for a white-collar case of placing Andrews, 40, in custody on the spot. A couple dozen of the victims applauded as U.S. marshals escorted Andrews from the courtroom in handcuffs.

“It just makes me sad,” Sam said, noting how Andrews wiped out people’s retirement savings. “It’s kind of like taking the widow’s mite.”

Andrews, who ran a Nephi tax return preparation service, admitted to encouraging nearly two dozen people to roll over their retirement accounts into fake companies he created called Jackson Trust and Lincoln Financial Group. He mailed them doctored financial statements from California to make the companies appear legitimate.

Andrews used at least $5.5 million for his living expenses and personal benefit, including luxury cars, homes and vacations. Investigators say all the money is gone. Victims — many of them longtime friends whom Andrews considered family — don’t expect to ever recoup their losses.

“He has lived as a millionaire for years and everybody else is paying for that now,” victim Ben Rosenloff told the judge.

It was also revealed in court Thursday that Andrews failed to remit some of his clients’ federal and state tax payments, landing them in trouble with the IRS.

“I don’t understand him,” Bown said. “I thought I knew him, but I don’t.”

Prosecutor Jacob Strain said this case wasn’t like other investment fraud cases where investors hope to double their money in a get-rich-quick scheme. These were people who knew and trusted Andrews and who thought their money was safe and secure with him, he said.

Andrews read an apology to the victims, saying words can’t describe his regret and that he hopes people forgive him.

“I’ve hurt and destroyed people’s lives and I’m truly sorry for that,” he said. “I scarred them both emotionally and financially for years to come.”

Defense attorney Rebecca Skordas argued for a 70-month sentence because she said Andrews was “incredibly forthcoming when originally confronted about wrongdoing” — a statement that drew scoffs from the packed courtroom.

Andrews cooperated with federal investigators and helped them go through bank documents to determine how much money victims were owed, she said.

Mike Sperry, who said his parents lost their life savings, showed the judge a large poster with photos of Andrews, who moved to California, enjoying himself at Disneyland this fall.

“I don’t think any of the victims have been to Disneyland since this happened,” he said.

Sallie Rawlings, a Draper lawyer who along with her husband lost 30 years of retirement savings, suggested Andrews be required to write an apology letter to the 20 victims listed in the criminal charges and spend a year in prison for each of them, an idea the judge said he liked but he couldn’t do.

“This was a calculated and manipulated fraud perpetrated by a masterful thief,” Rawlings said. “Let’s send a message that this cowardly, cruel, brazen act will not be tolerated.”

The Deseret News’ Three Part Series on Affinity Fraud in Utah

hotspotsMy friend Dennis Romboy is a great reporter over at the Deseret News who put together a very detailed two-part story on affinity fraud that was published over the weekend.

Part One of the series was called “Utah’s fraud ‘epidemic’: Victims share anger, embarrassment, hurt” and provided the details of how a number of Utahn’s have been victimized by individuals in their community.  Here are some interesting takeaways from the article:

  • FBI supervisory special agent Mike Pickett, who heads the white-collar unit in the Salt Lake field office, estimates the annual dollar amount of fraud in Utah now exceeds $2 billion.
  • Utah Attorney General said affinity fraud is “rampant” in Utah. He has also used the word “epidemic” to describe what’s happening in the state, and that is despite aggressive efforts to prosecute criminals and educate an unsuspecting public.
  • So far in 2016, federal criminal fraud cases have totaled $59.3 million in losses, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
  • Utah is in the top five in terms of investigations, indictments, prosecutions and sentences for investment fraud.

A number of the individuals featured in this story are victims of the Thomas Andrews scam that was detailed in my prior post called “A Shocking Story of A Small Town Fraud.”  I applaud these individuals for their bravery in publicly talking about what happened to them in the hope that some people will read the story and avoid making the same mistakes.

Part Two of the series was about how to protect yourself from being defrauded.  The article lists a number of ways to protect yourself, including the following “Red flag warnings of fraud”:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
  • Guaranteed returns aren’t. Every investment carries some risk.
  • Beauty isn’t everything. Don’t be fooled by slick websites.
  • Pressure to send money RIGHT NOW.

The article quotes me a number of times, including “Pugsley has succinct advice for anyone who receives an offer that mentions religion. ‘If someone brings up the church in the context of an investment pitch, then that’s the end of the discussion and you leave the room because people try to conflate the two,’ Pugsley said. ‘There should be no connection between the church and investments. Period.'”

To round it all up the Editorial Board of the newspaper published an opinion on the need to “trust but verify” that I thought was worth reproducing here:

In our opinion: Utah must ‘be trusting but verify’ regarding affinity fraud

The bucolic land of eastern Ohio is home to sizable pockets of the Amish community. Known for their collective ethos, these tight-knit religious cooperatives thrive on high levels of trust and social cohesion. Yet, the same trust that produces a remarkable culture of burden sharing can be exploited to perpetrate fraud.

In 2012, Monroe L. Beachy, a trusted name within the Amish community, was sent to prison for orchestrating a scheme that defrauded some 2,700 investors, many of them friends and neighbors.

Of course, the Amish are hardly the only religious group that’s vulnerable. As the Deseret News reported in a two-part series this week on affinity fraud: “Bernie Maddoff’s $20 billion fraud targeted wealthy Jewish people in Florida and Israel. Allen Stanford went after Southern Baptists before his $7 billion empire fell.” And, according to the Economist, the state with the most affinity fraud per capita is thought to be Utah, where members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comprise some 60 percent of the population.

The common theme is communities with high levels of trust are particularly vulnerable to fraud. The solution then is a heightened scrutiny when mixing financial and religious relationship. Although there is unquestionably a role to play for government in preventing and punishing fraud, individual consumers must also take responsibility for how they spend their money.

As Utah Governor Gary Herbert told the Economist: “be trusting but verify.”

There are a variety of things consumers can do to fortify against potential affinity fraud. As noted, for starters individuals can exercise healthy dubiety, especially when an opportunity sounds too good to be true (spoiler: it probably is). Yet, this is easier said than done. The most effective schemes, for example, do not make extravagant claims. Bernie Maddoff was so successful because his “returns” were relatively modest, making his fraud more convincing.

As with Maddoff’s victims, in Utah there are many highly educated and discerning individuals who have been taken in. Thus, it’s important to look beyond the facade of an investment company to determine its validity, and be doubly cautious about mixing church and financial relationships. There is no substitute for doing your homework instead of relying on the word of someone you trust in other settings. Keeping these principles in mind can protect consumers from deceitful investment opportunities claimed by people they know.

There have always been those who seek gain at the cost of others. Yet, in a hyper-competitive economy with strong cultural status expectations, a heightened temptation may exist to cut corners and profit at the expense of others. In such an environment, it’s incumbent on individuals of sound mind — as well as governments and community leaders — to guard against fraud.

After all, without willing investors, affinity fraud is impossible.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark W. Pugsley.  All rights reserved.

 

 

The 2016 Hiscox Embezzlement Study – A report on white collar crime in America

I saw this new study by Hiscox Insurance referenced in an article on Bloomberg and thought my readers might be interested in it, even though its focused more on embezzlement from businesses.

The study shows that white-collar crime is a major problem that all small business owners should be wary of.  Four out of every five organizations that fall victim to embezzlement had fewer than 100 employees and just under half had fewer than 25 employees.  So this is a problem that disproportionately affects small businesses.  The average loss was $807,443 – far more than most small businesses can afford to lose.

The report finds that the ‘average’ embezzler is a 49-year-old woman who works as a bookkeeper or accountant in a company with fewer than 50 employees, and is most likely to work in a company in the financial services or non-profit sector. She may be a long-time, trusted employee who has responsibility for the end-to-end accounts payable or payroll function in her company.

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In some cases, the perpetrator has fallen on hard times and decides to take an unauthorized loan from the company until they get back on their feet. Other times, they feel they are not being paid what they are worth, so they help themselves to a raise. In either case, if they begin by stealing small amounts of money, they may become emboldened if they are not caught, and may continue to steal regularly, until they have pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Here are some of the primary characteristics of embezzlers the reports says business owners should watch out for:

  • Intelligent and inquisitive  – always wants to know how everything works
  • Big spender  – living beyond means or sudden large purchases
  • Egotistical risk-taker  – rule breaker in and out of work life – from speeding tickets to overusing ‘sick time’
  • Hard worker – immune to stress – in early, out late, no vacations
  • Disgruntled – unable to relax, or experiencing drastic behavioral changes

The report concludes with a list of preventative measures a company can take to protect itself, including the following:

  1. Implement checks and balances
  2. Send bank statements to business owners home
  3. Pay attention to employee lifestyles and extreme changes to them Promote a culture of trustworthiness and integrity
  4. Talk with all employees about fraud detection and internal controls. Have them sign a code of ethics
  5. Complete background and credit checks on employees who will be handling money
  6. Review cancelled checks that come directly from the bank.

 

Does Disclosure of a Ponzi Scheme in the PPM make it legal? No.

Dee_Randall-1Dee Randall ran one of Utah’s largest Ponzi schemes, raising more than $72 million from approximately 700 investors nationwide.

On June 18, 2014 Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes’ office filed a criminal information and affidavit of probable cause against Randall for multiple counts of securities fraud and other related charges.  Randall, a resident of Kaysville, Utah, was charged with 21 second degree counts of felony securities fraud, one third-degree felony securities fraud count, and one second degree count of pattern of unlawful activity.

At the initial hearing on his criminal case victims testified that Randall, who was the owner of Horizon Mortgage & Investment, sold what he called “Horizon Notes” which were supposed to pay annual returns of 9 to 17 percent.  Investors were told that their funds would be used to finance car loans and real estate, but in reality Randall used investor funds for other things, such as payments to his other entities and payments to earlier investors – a classic Ponzi scheme. If you are in the market for a new home then you need, NorthPoint Mortgage.

What is unique about this case is Randall argued in court that although it may have been a Ponzi it was nevertheless legal because he disclosed it to his investors in the Private Placement Memoranda (or PPM).  Specifically, he disclosed that he was going to use new investor money to make payments to earlier investors, apparently hoping such a disclosure would get around securities laws.  So if you tell someone you’re going to defraud them is it still fraud?

Keith Woodwell, head of the Utah Division of Securities, says there’s no such thing as a “legal fraud” since Utah law also says it is illegal to operate a business in way that defrauds investors. “Using money from new investors to pay older investors, with no way to generate profits to pay people back, is a fraud regardless of whether you disclose it or not.”  This novel argument was also rejected by the bankruptcy judge.

My question is this: did anyone ever actually read the Horizon PPM?  PPM’s are required for a non-registered offerings of securities and are definitely worth reading before you invest.  In this case potential investors who read the PPM would have discovered that their money was going to be used to pay off other investors and (hopefully) would have declined to participate in this investment opportunity.  But the unfortunate reality is that  hardly anyone ever reads PPM, they are long and usually difficult to understand.

After months of legal maneuvering, this week Randall finally pleaded guilty to four counts of securities fraud and one count of pattern of unlawful activity, each punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Sentencing is set for Feb. 6, 2017.

If you are a victim of the Dee Randall/Horizon Financial scam feel free to share your story in the comments below.   The bankruptcy trustee is Gill Miller of Rocky Mountain Advisory, and his website can be found here.

UPDATE: Shane Baldwin Pled Guilty and was Sentenced to Up To 60 Years in Prison

Baldwin

On April 1, 2016 Shane Baldwin pleaded guilty to four counts of securities fraud, one count of theft and one count of pattern of unlawful activity. All of his crimes are second-degree felonies, each of which are punishable by one to 15 years in prison.  As part of a plea agreement, other charges against Baldwin were dropped.

The Salt lake Tribune wrote this up here, and the official announcement of the plea from the Utah Attorney General’s office is here.


When you practice law in the area of investment fraud you tend to get a lot of calls about some cases and individuals — especially once the payments stop coming in.  I can honestly say that I have received more calls regarding Layton, Utah resident Dwight Shane Baldwin over the past six or seven years than any other individual.  I previously wrote about Baldwin in a post titled “Silverleaf Fraud Filing” in March of 2010, when the initial civil charges were filed.  He later entered into a Stipulation and Consent order in June of 2010 with the Utah Division of Securities. Well, these cases move slowly but I am pleased to report that three sets of criminal charges have now been filed against Baldwin.

As reported by Tom Harvey at the Salt Lake Tribune, last month prosecutors filed criminal charges for the third time in less than a month.  The latest allegations are that he cheated investors out of more than $14 million.  Baldwin faces fourteen second-degree felonies, including Securities Fraud, Communications Fraud, Theft, Unlawful Dealing with Property by a Fiduciary, and engaging in a Pattern of Unlawful Activity..

The Affidavit of Probable Cause filed by the Utah Attorney General’s Office alleges that Baldwin, as founder and manager of Silverleaf Financial, told investors that he would use their money to purchase distressed debt that was purportedly secured by real property. As usual, investors were promised abnormally large returns in exchange for their investment — always a red flag.

However, as is often the case, an investigation by the Utah Division of Securities and the Federal Bureau of Investigations revealed Baldwin engaged in numerous deceptions while trying to obtain investor funds, including misrepresenting expected investment returns. He is alleged to have told one investor he was investing $2 million in an asset purchase but never actually invested the money. In another transaction he told multiple investors he had a buyer ready to purchase an asset and none of the investors were repaid any of their initial investment. It is also alleged that Baldwin used $1 million of investor money on personal expenses.

In a news release, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes stated that “people should verify the legitimacy of a deal or offering, before ever trusting anyone, even close friends and family, with money to invest.”

I couldn’t agree more.


UPDATE:  As reported this week in the Ogden Standard Examiner, on May 26th Third District Court Judge James Blanch sentenced Shane Baldwin to six terms of 1 to 15 years at the Utah State Prison, four to be served consecutively.  This means he could be in prison for 4 to 60 years. In return for dismissal of eight other charges, Baldwin had pleaded guilty to four counts of securities fraud, one count of theft and one count of engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity. The latter two sentences are to be served concurrently with the others.

Judge Blanch also sentenced Baldwin to additional jail time for attacking a Salt Lake County jailer on Nov. 4, 2015.  A probable cause affidavit said Baldwin became angry and shoved, punched, scratched and tried to gouge the eye of a jailer.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark W. Pugsley

Another Case Where Investors Should Have Googled Her Name

This is a story that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune yesterday.  As I have said before, many of these fraudsters are serial offenders.  They get out of prison and quickly get back into the business of soliciting investments from innocent investors.  So please do your homework before giving anyone your hard earned money.  In this case, a quick Google search would have led you to this article in the Deseret News, and now the Utah White Collar Crime Registry contains this listing.  Google is your friend.


Utah woman sentenced gets prison for a second round of defrauding investors

First Published May 24 2016 10:48PM

A Logan woman will spend two to 30 years in prison after she misled investors and defrauded them of more than $1.7 million.  Lori Ann Anderson, 54, pleaded guilty to two counts of securities fraud and one count of pattern of unlawful activity, all second-degree felonies, on January 23, according to a news release from the Utah attorney general’s office. She was sentenced Tuesday.

“Anderson’s crime is especially egregious, as she has been previously convicted of fraud and she continued to prey on neighbors and friends,” said Eric Barnhart, FBI Salt Lake City special agent in charge, in the release.

Anderson spent time in prison in 1992 after defrauding insurance-policy holders of $140,000, the news release says.

Keith Woodwell, director of the Utah Division of Securities, described the case as a “grim repeat performance, deluding unsuspecting victims into handing over their trust and money in a church environment.”

He said in the news release that affinity fraud is the “most damaging white-collar crime, where fraudsters not only steal the nest eggs of Utah victims, but destroy their trusting nature as well.”

A joint investigation with the FBI, the Utah Division of Securities and the Utah attorney general’s office found that 46 people had lost more than $1.7 million as a result of Anderson’s actions, the release says.

More than 10 victims, some in tears, addressed the court at the sentencing hearing, expressing a feeling of betrayal, according to the release.

Anderson formed a trading club named S.M.T.S., which allowed her to pool the money of friends who invested with her for day trading in Apple stock, the news release says.

She misrepresented the business’ success to her investors, telling them she made returns of about 10 percent per year and never had a losing day trading, when she actually lost $300,000 trading between 2013 and 2015, according to the news release.

Despite these losses, Anderson sent investors false account statements that purported to show gains, the release says.

A search warrant for Anderson’s home was issued in July 2015, and during the search, she admitted to lying to investors, the news release says. By the time of the search warrant, Anderson claimed she only had about $40,000 of the original $1.7 million in investor funds remaining.

Anderson’s case demonstrates how easy it is for “any of us to fall victim to fraudsters with promises of high returns,” Attorney General Sean Reyes said in the release.

Reyes said he urges Utahns to check the White Collar Crime Offender Registry, call the Securities and Exchange Commission (801-524-5796) or contact the Utah Department of Commerce (801-530-6701).

Why Do Utahns Take Such Extreme Risks in Investments?

The editorial board of the Salt Lake Tribune recently wrote an editorial titled “Gambling-avemaxresdefaultrse Utahns take wild investment bets” (reproduced below) which asks why Utahns, who are always talking about the evils of gambling, so often fall prey to the pitches of con-men who promise outrageously high returns with significant risk.  Isn’t an investment that promises returns of 600% per year (or more) basically gambling too?

I wish I knew the answer to that question, but I think a hint lies in a comment I recently received on one of my posts about a convicted con-man named Alan Oviatt, who is currently serving time in prison for felony theft.  The commenter wrote:

“My family and I have known Alan Oviatt for more than 35 years, and I can assure everyone that he is a great man with a wonderful family, his outstanding life style based on wonderful principles has inspired me to be much better.”

I think, for whatever reason, many here in Utah focus more on the person than the nature of the investment.  They think so-and-so is a great person or such a good member of the church, so the investment he is pitching must be great too.  If only that were true.

I have previously written about how to spot a scam; these steps should be followed regardless of whether or not the person offering the investment is a “great man with a wonderful family.”  Investing in a private deal with no paperwork is extremely risky.  In fact, you might be better off driving down to Las Vegas and putting your retirement on the blackjack table — the risks there are much lower.

What do you think makes Utah people take such wild investment risks with their money?  Add your thoughts in the comments below.


Tribune Editorial: Gambling-averse Utahns take wild investment bets

Another day, another Utah fraud conviction. Logan businessman John Scott Clark pleaded guilty this week in federal court to defrauding investors of $1.84 million. That’s a lot of money, but not anywhere close to the major fraud cases that have floated through this state.

What makes Clark’s case a little different is that he started the fraud scheme while he was on supervised release for a 2012 guilty plea in a New York federal court to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

And that came after Clark had been sued in Salt Lake City by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly operating a $47 million Ponzi scheme through his payday loan operations. In that case he was ordered not to violate federal securities laws and he was required to pay more than $5.6 million.

In other words, this guy is not someone to trust with your money, and yet there were 46 people willing to give him the $1.84 million.

At least some of the victims came through church associations, and that has an all too familiar ring. Utah is thought to have the highest rate of affinity fraud, in which scammers use religious and other associations to gain trust from victims.

Aware of the reputation, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has championed a state white-collar crime registry, and the registry’s website recently launched with 106 people listed (with photos). That may be helpful, but this case also shows the limitations of such lists. Clark, for all his history, is not among the listed, at least not yet.

The greed of these perpetrators is obvious, but what is less acknowledged is the greed of the victims. Consider what Clark was selling. He promised returns of 15 percent to 15,000 percent on foreign oil contracts by telling investors he and his business partner “were members of a top secret U.S. military and government program and held special security clearances which enabled them to invest in the purchase and sale of Iraqi dinar and oil contracts.”

Who in his right mind would buy that line?

That brings us to another state effort to counter our fraud-capital rep. Utah is one of only a few states to require high school students to take a course in financial literacy. The standards for that class say students are required to “understand that investments put principal at risk.” On the sliding scale of risks vs. rewards, there is a point at which investing is more like gambling, and 15,000 percent returns are definitely past that point.

And that is where gambling-averse Utahns may be easy prey. Along with counseling our children on benefits of wise money management, maybe we should be teaching them how to play poker. Then they won’t be surprised when someone in real life tries to bluff.

http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/3730586-155/editorial-gambling-averse-utahns-take-wild-investment

Copyright © 2016 by Mark W. Pugsley.  All rights reserved.

Chad Deucher of Marquis Properties Has Been Indicted.

DOJI previously wrote about the SEC’s lawsuit against Chad Deucher of Orem, Utah.  As is often the case, the criminal authorities have now brought separate criminal charges against him in connection with the alleged $28 million Ponzi scheme that defrauded more than 250 investors throughout the United States.  Yesterday the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah announced that it has obtained a criminal indictment against him charging 18 counts of wire fraud and one count of fraud in connection with the purchase and sale of securities.

Prosecutors alleged that Deucher used direct solicitations, radio advertisements, a website, and real estate and retirement seminars, among other things, to find investors for three types of investments offered through his company.  The investment options included turnkey cash flow real estate investments, promissory notes secured by real properties, and joint ventures.

The indictment alleges that Deucher made oral and written misrepresentations about the investments in communications with potential investors. He represented that Marquis located, purchased, renovated and sold single family and small, multi-family homes in lucrative areas of the country.  Deucher told investors that Marquis retained renovation crews, property managers and realtors on the ground to assist with all stages of the projects, eliminating the need for direct involvement.  According to the indictment, Deucher represented that investors could earn a significant return on their investments.  Some investors were promised approximately 8 percent per year for three years, while others were promised 16 percent to 22 percent over an investment period of about one year when rental income was considered. Later in the scheme, according to the indictment, some investors were promised 12 percent to 18 percent for a period of about two weeks to around two months, or 10 percent for investments of about two to six weeks.  In truth, the indictment alleges, Deucher tailored the terms of return based on his need for money and what he believed would induce the investor to invest in his company.

According to the indictment, Deucher failed to disclose to investors that the property Marquis offered as collateral were not owned by the company, were substantially encumbered, or were in uninhabitable or blighted condition.  He also did not disclose that Marquis was insolvent, the indictment alleges, and was unable to make interest and principal payments to investors and that investor returns were being paid from the funds of new investors.  Deucher also allegedly failed to disclose that the securities he offered were not registered and that he was not registered or associated with a securities broker or dealer, all required by law, the indictment alleges. The indictment also alleges that Deucher transferred several million of dollars of investor money from business accounts he controlled for his own business and personal interests unrelated to the acquisition or rehabilitation of real property.

The potential maximum penalty for each of the 19 counts in the indictment is 20 years in federal prison.  The potential fine for the securities fraud count is $5 million.  Each wire fraud count has a potential $250,000 fine.  The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake City and investigated by FBI special agents.  The Orem Police Department and investigators with the Utah County Attorney’s Office also participated in the investigation.

If you are a victim of the Marquis Properties Ponzi scheme please contact us, and feel free to tell your story in the comments below.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark W. Pugsley.  All rights reserved.