UPDATE: Lessons to be Learned from Jeffrey Mowen

Here is an update on this story from the Salt Lake Tribune.  There is another moral to this story that is evident in these prosecutions, and that is you need to be careful who you solicit money on behalf of, and its better not to do it at all.  If you are not licensed to sell securities and accept a fee for raising money on behalf of another person it could get you into a lot of trouble — regardless of whether its a scam or not:

Utahns among six sanctioned over Ponzi scheme

By Tom Harvey
The Salt Lake Tribune
Published: March 7, 2012

Federal regulators have imposed sanctions on six Utah and Colorado men for their involvement with Jeffrey Mowen, the Utah County man who plead guilty to fraud charges for running a Ponzi scheme that took in about $18 million from investors on promises of returns of 2 percent or more a month.

The Securities and Exchange Commission said the six solicited millions of dollars of investor money that went to Mowen using false claims about where the money would go and about the security of the investments.

Sanctions were imposed against Thomas R. Fry, Cedar Hills; Michael W. Averett, Pleasant Grove; Michael G. Butcher, Loveland, Colo.; Gary W. Hansen Berthoud, Colo.; James B. Mooring, Highland; and Bevan J. Wilde, Highland.

Mowen SEC Sanctions

In a 2009 lawsuit the SEC said the six had raised about $41 million from 150 investors in various states. Of that, about $18 million went to Mowen, who used about half of it to make interest payments to investors so it appeared his operation was profitable in what’s known as a Ponzi scheme.

Mowen, who is now serving a 10-year prison sentence, misappropriated another $8 million for personal use, including buying a large collection of luxury and antique motor vehicles, with another $650,000 going to his then wife.

The lawsuit said Fry led the group of promoters in distributing false information about the investments. They also failed to do adequate research to ensure the information was legitimate, it said.

Fry ignored the fact that Mowen had been under investigation and eventually was convicted of securities fraud, the lawsuit said. When Fry learned that Mowen had been convicted, he failed to disclose that information to investors or other promoters.

Fry and the others settled the lawsuit against them and were ordered not to commit anymore violations. The SEC is seeking repayment of funds they earned in the process.

In recent administrative actions, the SEC barred the six from participating in investment sales, services and promotions, including penny stocks.

A seventh man named in the lawsuit, David G. Bartholomew, continues to defend himself.

tharvey@sltrib.com

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Tom Harvey reported in the Salt Lake Tribune yesterday that Jeff Mowen finally pled guilty to one count of wire fraud and will spend ten years in prison.  I have not previously written about Mr. Mowen, but now that he has pleaded guilty I feel like I can write about it.  I met with Jeff Mowen several times when he was trying to hire me as his defense attorney.   He never actually hired me and he certainly never paid me a dime, but I am not going to reveal any potentially privileged communications in this post. Continue reading “UPDATE: Lessons to be Learned from Jeffrey Mowen”

Fleecing the Flock: The Big Business of Swindling People Who Trust You

This a repost of a great article on affinity fraud that appeared in this week’s Economist Magazine.

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Fleecing the flock

The big business of swindling people who trust you

Jan 28th 2012 | SALT LAKE CITY | from the print edition

WITH a nudge from their pastor, the 25,000 members of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church near Atlanta opened their hearts, and their wallets, to Ephren Taylor. And why not, given his glittering credentials? Mr Taylor billed himself as the youngest black chief executive of a publicly traded company in American history. He had appeared on NPR and CNN. He had given a talk on socially conscious investing at the Democratic National Convention. Snoop Dogg, a rapper, had tapped him to manage a charitable endowment.

So when Mr Taylor’s “Wealth Tour Live” seminars came to town, faithful ears opened wide. Eddie Long, the mega-church’s leader, introduced Mr Taylor at one event with the words: “[God] wants you to be a mover and shaker…to finance you well to do His will.” Mr Taylor offered “low-risk investment with high performances”, chosen with guidance from God. Continue reading “Fleecing the Flock: The Big Business of Swindling People Who Trust You”

How Investors Used Social Media to Sniff Out a Scam — Before it Started

On January 4, 2012 the SEC charged Anthony Fields, Anthony Fields & Associates and Platinum Securities Brokers, with selling $500 billion of fraudulent securities through LinkedIn and other social media websites.  For example, according to the SEC he used LinkedIn discussions to promote fictitious “bank guarantees” and “medium-term notes.” The postings resulted in interest from multiple purported potential buyers.

One of the interesting things about this case is that nobody actually purchased the stock and nobody lost any money.  The SEC shut this one down before it even got started, which is unusually proactive in my experience. Continue reading “How Investors Used Social Media to Sniff Out a Scam — Before it Started”

Ponzi Scheme and Investment Fraud Red Flags

This is repost of an article on her Fraud Files Blog.  This was written by Tracy Coenen, CPA, CFF who investigates cases of financial fraud and Ponzi Schemes.

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Ponzi Scheme and Investment Fraud Red Flags

Posted on January 20th, 2012

Charles Ponzi

How do you know if you’re considering investing in a Ponzi scheme? The promoters will never come out and tell you they are running a pyramid scheme, so the investors have to be smart enough to recognize them on their own. The good news is it is easy to spot a Ponzi scheme.

Now I don’t mean that it’s easy to prove in a court of law that something is a Ponzi scheme. In a civil or criminal case, there are certain standards of proof that need to be met. But you’re not a court. You’re simply an investor. Whether you have $10,000 to invest or $10 million to invest, your money is probably pretty important to you. Continue reading “Ponzi Scheme and Investment Fraud Red Flags”

The SEC is Targeting Affinity Fraud

This is a re-post of an article in Financial Advisor Magazine on how the SEC is increasingly looking into affinity fraud issues:

SEC TARGETING AFFINITY AND MICROCAP FRAUD

Social media and the Internet are making it easier for people to commit affinity fraud — when a person uses a common bond he has with others to cheat them out of their money, says SEC Chairwoman Mary L. Schapiro.

U.S. Attorneys in several states have made arrests recently in cases in which a Jewish person misused trust from a close-knit Jewish community or someone infiltrated an elderly community to build enough trust to sell fraudulent investments.

“Religious groups or ethnic groups can be a hot bed for these types of fraud,” says Owen Donley, chief counsel of investor education and advocacy. “We put out publications and use social media to fight this. I would hope this type of fraud is not something an advisor would fall for, but it is something advisors can help their clients watch out for. Continue reading “The SEC is Targeting Affinity Fraud”

Seniors: Beware of Affinity Fraud

This is a repost of an excellent article by Christine Benz that was published in Morningstar entitled Seniors: Beware of Affinity Fraud:

In hindsight, a scam like the one Bernie Madoff perpetrated on his victims looks like it should’ve been a cinch to detect. Madoff’s clients were promised steady returns of 10%-12% per year; that should’ve looked impossible even to novice investors, particularly given the extreme market volatility that marked the first decade of the 21st century. Financial analyst and Madoff whistle-blower Harry Markopolos said he knew that Madoff had faked his clients’ returns within five minutes of seeing them.

Much ink has been spilled over how Madoff managed such a swindle–a court-appointed trustee estimated client losses in the $18 billion range–but one of his methods was clear: Using a technique called affinity fraud, Madoff presented himself as a trusted member of communities at the same time he was trying to separate them from their money. Various Jewish organizations and institutions, as well as Jewish individuals planning for their own financial goals, were hit particularly hard: In addition to losing millions, several charitable entities were forced to lay off staff or close altogether. Continue reading “Seniors: Beware of Affinity Fraud”

UPDATE: Why its important to run a Google search on anyone you want to invest with.

UPDATE:   On November 3rd Marc Jenson was sentenced to back-to-back, zero-to-five-year prison terms for failing to pay restitution to investors pursuant to the restitution order in his first fraud conviction involving a bicycle company.  Judge Reese had given him three years to pay $4.1 million in restitution, but according to prosecutors Jenson moved to California and used up all of the money to fund his lavish lifestyle.  According to prosecutors from the attorney General’s Office, Jenson “went through $9 million, none directed to the victims in this case.”

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Judge Reese said he based his sentencing decision on “Jenson’s failure to pay the men back on his conviction years earlier for failure to pay federal income tax and a ‘pattern of you raising money, making promises and not repaying [people].'”  This City Weekly Article contains a lot of interesting detail about the hearing, and in particular how Mr. Jenson spent the $9 million he raised over the past few years, including “a sports car worth more than $150,000, an extended stay at a Laguna Beach residence costing $360,000 up front for the rental agreement, followed by a nine-month stay at the Pelican Hills Resort in California costing over $500,000.”  he also spent some of his investor’s money on something (or someone) called “Russian Wow Girls.”

The case discussed below, involving the Mount Holly Club, is a separate case and has not been resolved yet.  That case could well result in more prison time for Mr. Jenson. Continue reading “UPDATE: Why its important to run a Google search on anyone you want to invest with.”

Great Advice for Seniors on How to Avoid Affinity Fraud

This is a repost of a terrific article that appeared in Morningstar this week:
Seniors: Beware of Affinity Fraud By Christine Benz 
In hindsight, a scam like the one Bernie Madoff perpetrated on his victims looks like it should’ve been a cinch to detect. Madoff’s clients were promised steady returns of 10%-12% per year; that should’ve looked impossible even to novice investors, particularly given the extreme market volatility that marked the first decade of the 21st century. Financial analyst and Madoff whistle-blower Harry Markopolos said he knew that Madoff had faked his clients’ returns within five minutes of seeing them. Continue reading “Great Advice for Seniors on How to Avoid Affinity Fraud”

NASAA’s Top Ten List of Investment Traps

The North American Securities Administrators Association, Inc. (“NASAA”) has just issued its annual top ten list for this year.  This list is the primary “financial products and practices that threaten to trap unwary investors” as told to NASAA by their members, which include the Utah Division of Securities. Continue reading “NASAA’s Top Ten List of Investment Traps”

UPDATE: Would you Invest in the Candwich?

Update #3: Today Judge Clark Waddoups rejected the plea bargain that Wright had negotiated with prosecutors concluding that the deal appeared too light given the magnitude of how Wright had “intentionally deceived and misled people.”  The defendant will now be forced to negotiate a new plea bargain with the U.S. Attorney’s office — or go to trial.  The judge’s decision appears to be based primarily upon the letters he received from angry investors.

UPDATE #2: Last week Travis Wright pleaded guilty to one count of fraud, admitting he operated a massive Ponzi scheme that owed investors at least $44 million when it went bust in 2009.  He will be sentenced after the judge hears testimony from the victims.

UPDATE:  My friend Tom Harvey reported yesterday in the Salt Lake Tribune that Travis Wright, who ran Waterford Funding, entered a plea of not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Paul Warner to the charge of mail fraud.  The article can be found here.

On July 7, 2010 the New York Times ran a story about the SEC’s recent lawsuit against Travis Wright and Waterford Funding.  The SEC’s press release about the case can be found here.   Among other things, the SEC’s lawsuit alleges that Wright lied to his investors saying he was investing their money in hard money loans secured by real estate, when really he was funneling most of their money to the inventor of the “Candwich” (who also planned to offer Pepperoni Pizza Pockets and French toast in a can).  Yum.

This is the part that is really baffling to me about this case.  Did he really think the Candwich would be more profitable than real estate?  Given the current state of the real estate market it may be the case — but not between 2001 and 2007 when the fund was really going strong.  The SEC also alleges that he used $15 million of investor funds for personal use, including the purchase of a $5 million home on Walker Lane from former Jazz legend Jeff Hornacek, which he completely renovated and imported cobblestones from France for the driveway.   But it was probably pretty trashy after Hornacek moved out.

Continue reading “UPDATE: Would you Invest in the Candwich?”