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Recent SEC Releases
Friday
Jan112019

Stanford Ponzi Victim Ordered To Return Entire $79 Million Principal Investment To Receiver

Allen Stanford's Mug ShotOften in the aftermath of a Ponzi scheme once the dust has settled and a Receiver or Trustee has taken stock of the remnants of what was once touted as a guaranteed and safe investment opportunity, the focus shifts to what assets could potentially be recovered for the benefit of defrauded victims.  One of the most common recovery mechanisms is to attempt to "clawback" any amounts transferred to investors in excess of their original investment - often called "false profits."  But in rare situations, investors have been targeted for the return of their entire principal investment based on allegations that they allegedly lacked good faith when they received that principal amount.  Recently, a federal appeals court determined that the receiver overseeing R. Allen Stanford's failed $7 billion Ponzi scheme was entitled to recover a Stanford investor's entire $80 million principal investment because the victim failed to act in good faith.  The decision is notable not only because of its rarity but also because the SEC initially opposed the Stanford receiver's plans to target certain investors' principal investments.

Stanford's Scheme and the Receiver's Appointment

"Everybody who got money from Stanford has two things in common: One, they don't want to give it back. Two, they claim they're completely innocent and had no idea anything untoward was going on,"

Janvey attorney Kevin M. Sadler

Stanford's scheme advised clients from 113 countries to purchase more than $7 billion in certificates of deposit from the Stanford International Bank ("SIB") in Antigua.  The SEC instituted civil proceedings in February 2009, and a receiver, Ralph Janvey, was appointed to marshal assets for victims.  Criminal charges were brought later that year, and Stanford is currently serving a 110-year prison sentence for what is considered one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history.   

Following his appointment, Janvey filed numerous clawback lawsuits against victims and other third parties that he contended wrongfully received illicit scheme proceeds.  The suits, brought under Texas's passage of the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act ("TUFTA"), alleged that the transfers to the investors were made with the actual or constructive intent to hinder, delay, or defraud, and that equity requires that those profits be returned to the receivership where they may be distributed in a pro rata fashion to those less-fortunate investors. Proceeding under a theory of actual intent to hinder, delay, or defraud, which can be satisfied through the finding that the perpetrator operated a Ponzi scheme, shifts the burden to the clawback defendant to demonstrate both that they showed good faith and provided reasonably equivalent value for the transfers.

In analyzing reasonably equivalent value, courts have made a distinction in analyzing whether the transfer encompassed an investor's principal investment or profits in addition to that investment.  Courts have found that an investor can provide reasonably equivalent value for any amount up to that investor's principal investment because the return of those funds extinguishes that victim's claim for return of their principal.  Of course, an investor must still demonstrate good faith in receiving those transfers in order to satisfy their defense under TUFTA.  However, courts have found that an investor cannot provide reasonably equivalent value for their receipt of distributions in excess of their original investment - often called "false profits" because they are typically funds from other investors - and courts routinely allow recovery of those false profits under TUFTA or other theories.  

Janvey's decision to file clawback suits was unique in that the SEC opposed any clawback suits seeking to recover an investor's partial or full principal investment.  After Janvey indicated in his April 2009 Report that such efforts could potentially recoup more than $300 million in transfers, the SEC filed an Emergency Motion seeking to modify the Order Appointing Receiver to prohibit Janvey from pursuing clawback actions against innocent investors because those suits "contravene[d] Commission practice and [was] supported by neither logic nor the law."  Like the courts' analysis of clawback suits, the SEC also drew a distinction between suits seeking false profits - which it supported - and suits targeting "innocent" investors for the return of principal - which it did not support.  The Court ultimately denied the SEC's motion and allowed Janvey's suits to go forward.

The Clawback Suit

Gary D. Magness and his related entities (collectively, "Magness) were one of Stanford's largest U.S. investors, purchasing $79 million in Stanford CDs between December 2004 and October 2006 - several years before the scheme's collapse.  Following a July 2008 Bloomberg report that the SEC was investigating Stanford, Magness's investment committee decided at an October 2008 meeting to seek, at a minimum, the accumulated interest owing on Magness's investment.  Magness has maintained that this decision was not due to the Bloomberg report but rather because of his own mounting liquidity issues in the run-up to the financial crisis. 

After Magness's financial advisor approached Stanford's issuing bank for a redemption, Magness ultimately received approximately $88.2 million in cash later that month as purported "loans" repaid by the accrued interest and principal investment.  This amount included approximately $8.5 million in purported profits on Magness's CD investment.  Stanford was charged by the SEC several months later.

Janvey sued Magness to recover all $88.2 million he had received before SIB's collapse.  Magness subsequently returned the $8.5 million he had received in "false profits" following the Court's award of partial summary judgment to the Receiver for those transfers. The case ultimately went to a jury to decide whether Magness had received the returns constituting his principal investment in good faith.  The jury decided that Magness had inquiry notice that Stanford's bank was engaged in a Ponzi scheme, but not actual notice.  Inquiry notice was defined in the jury instructions as:

[K]nowledge of facts relating to the transaction at issue that would have excited the suspicions of a reasonable person and led that person to investigate.

In what would be the focus of appellate efforts, the jury also concluded that any investigation by Magness would have been futile.  The jury instructions defined a futile investigation as when:

a diligent inquiry would not have revealed to a reasonable person that Stanford was running a Ponzi scheme.

Notwithstanding the jury verdict, The Receiver asked the lower court to enter judgment in his favor and argued that the jury's finding of inquiry notice defeated Magness's good faith defense under TUFTA.  The court denied that motion, finding the Receiver was only entitled to recover Magness's $8.5 million in false profits, and the Receiver appealed that Order to the Fifth Circuit.

The Appeal

The Receiver's main argument on appeal was that the trial court had impermissibly created a "futility exception" to TUFTA's good faith defense.  That futility exception derives from bankruptcy law where courts interpreting the Bankruptcy Code's fraudulent transfer provision (11 U.S.C. 548(c)) have allowed a transferee to rebut a finding of inquiry notice by demonstrating that the complexity of the fraudulent scheme would have rendered any investigation futile.  Despite TUFTA's silence on the topic, the district court held that a transferee with inquiry notice must conduct a diligent investigation into the facts giving rise to the inquiry notice or otherwise that any investigation would have been futile.  

The Fifth Circuit noted that the Texas Supreme Court had not addressed whether or not TUFTA's good faith provision requires a diligent investigation or corresponding futility exception.  In reviewing other relevant and persuasive decisions, the Fifth Circuit noted that:

in fact, no court has considered extending TUFTA good faith to a transferee on inquiry notice who later shows an investigation would have been futile.

Even though TUFTA was based on the Bankruptcy Code's fraudulent transfer provision under Section 548, the Fifth Circuit noted that it had previously declined to rely on that provision to interpret good faith under TUFTA.  This, the Court reasoned, was supported by the absence in Section 548 or its legislative history of any definition of good faith as well as the lack of clear consensus from other courts as to the application of a good faith defense or the corresponding availability of a futility exception under Section 548.  In declining to find the availability of a futility exception to TUFTA's good faith requirement, the Fifth Circuit concluded that 

No prior court considering TUFTA good faith has applied a futility exception to this exception, and we decline to hold that the Supreme Court of Texas would do so.

Implications

Assuming that the Fifth Circuit's decision withstands any appellate scrutiny, the holding presents potentially enormous ramifications in Ponzi scheme jurisprudence.  In essence, the decision allows a trustee or receiver to point to a news article or other red flag and then argue that any principal redemptions subsequent to that event were done on inquiry notice and thus deprive that transferee of the good faith defense.  This is important because the vast majority of investors in a Ponzi scheme are not fortunate enough to receive enough distributions to exceed their principal investment and previously would not typically have been subject to a receiver's scrutiny or clawback efforts.  The potential for principal distributions to now be within a receiver's grasp upon the existence of a certain event placing any recipients on inquiry notice greatly expands both the potential number of clawback targets as well as the ultimate size of the receiver's recoveries.  

A copy of the Fifth Circuit's decision is below:

 

Janvey v Magness by jmaglich1 on Scribd

 

Janvey v Magness by on Scribd

 

 

Wednesday
Jan092019

Saying "Restitution Comes First," Judge Slashes Prison Sentences For Brothers Convicted Of Running Ponzi Scheme

"The longer you're incarcerated, the longer the victims go without any money...Restitution comes first." 

- Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina

A Michigan judge drastically reduced the sentences of twin brothers convicted of operating a multi-million dollar real estate Ponzi scheme, reasoning that their ability to pay restitution to defrauded victims weighed in favor of a reduced prison sentence.  James and Thomas Mulholland had their 10-to-20 year prison sentence reduced to 3.75-to-20 years by Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina after an appellate court vacated the brothers' previous sentence over an error in applying sentencing guidelines.  With the new lower sentence range and because they have been in prison since 2016, the brothers will be eligible for parole in mid-2020.

The Mulholland twins - who incredibly are one of at least three sets of twins accused of running Ponzi schemes (see here and here) - were convicted by a Michigan jury in 2016 of eight charges stemming from their operation of Mulholland Financial.  The company, which they started in 1987, invested in residential real estate in Michigan.  Shortly after forming the company, the Mulhollands began raising money from investors to purportedly buy, maintain, and rent residential housing.  Prospective investors were promised a guaranteed 7% annual return which would purportedly be generated from company profits.  The Mulhollands recruited clients of thier insurance business as well as those clients' friends and relatives, and many of those clients were retirees with limited or no investment experience.  Despite Mulholland Financial's dissolution in 2006, the brothers continued raising funds until 2010.

Perhaps unsurprising given the company's real estate focus, the financial downturn was devastating to Mulholland Financial and resulted in the twin brothers filing bankruptcy in February 2010.  In late 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil enforcement action against the brothers alleging that they conducted a fraudulent and unregistered securities offering and accusing them of making numerous misrepresentations about the business and the use of investor funds.  For example, despite the brothers allegedly telling investors in late 2009 that the business was doing well and would be expanding soon, the SEC alleged that Mulholland Financial had been experiencing financial hardship since at least January 2009 and frequently operated at a loss during 2009.  The SEC also alleged that the brothers used investor monies raised in 2009 to, among other things, "shore up their money-losing business" and make repayments to existing investors - the hallmark of a Ponzi scheme.  The Mulhollands consented to the entry of final judgments in 2012 ordering them to pay disgorgement and civil monetary penalties.

The Mulhollands were later charged by Michigan authorities several years later.  After an August 2016 trial where a jury convicted the brothers of eight charges, a sitting Ingham County judge sentenced each of the brothers to 10-20 years in prison and ordered them to pay approximately $200,000 in restitution.  The restitution paled in comparison to the estimated $18 million in losses because Michigan law limits the awarding of restitution only to victims whose cases resulted in the conviction.  The Michigan Court of Appeals vacated the brothers' sentences last year over errors in the application of applicable sentencing guidelines, including the improper maximum scoring for one scoring variable that allowed an increase where victims experienced serious psychological injuries.  At a hearing this week, Judge Aquilina observed that keeping the Mulhollands in prison would only delay their ability to pay the $208,000 in restitution they owe to victims and reduced the twins' sentences to 3.75-to-20 years in prison.  

The brothers will be eligible for parole in mid-2020.

Monday
Jan072019

Suspected Ponzi Schemer's Suicide Could Mean 100% Recovery For Victims

Investors defrauded by a Charlotte businessman's suspected $50 million Ponzi scheme may ultimately recoup most or all of their losses in a proposed settlement due to the accused schemer's decision to purchase tens of millions of dollars in life insurance policies.  Richard Siskey is alleged to have committed one of the largest investment frauds in Charlotte's history and committed suicide in December 2016 just before the unsealing of an FBI affidavit accusing him of operating a Ponzi scheme for several years.  However, the revelation that Siskey's family received tens of millions of dollars in life insurance payouts has given victims hope that they could recover a a significant portion of thier losses.  A federal bankruptcy court will now decide whether to approve a proposed settlement that will allow victims to recover at least 90% (and potentially all) of their losses and also permit Siskey's family to maintain a portion of the payouts. 

The Scheme

Siskey operated several companies including TSI Holdings, LLC, WSC Holdings, LLC, and SouthPark Partners, LLC (collectively, the "Siskey Entities").  Siskey also operated Wall Street Capitol, a financial services firm that was operated under the Metlife Insurance Co. ("MetLife") umbrella. Siskey told potential investors that he would either manage or invest their money and that they could expect to receive a promised or guaranteed varying return.  Siskey was linked to MetLife in multiple ways besides selling MetLife insurance policies, including renting space in offices leased by MetLife and overseen by MetLife employees.  And at least one investor has alleged that MetLife employees were sent to her house on Siskey's behalf to pick up checks and documents.  

Unbeknownst to Siskey, law enforcement opened an investigation in late 2015 into whether Siskey was commingling personal and business funds.  This included interviews with Siskey clients, analysis of Siskey business accounts, and ultimately an interview with Siskey himself in December 2016.  Siskey committed suicide shortly after the December 2016 FBI interview, and a later-unsealed FBI affidavit concluded that "Siskey is operating what is commonly referred to as a 'Ponzi' scheme."  

The Bankruptcy

Shortly after Siskey's suicide, several creditors petitioned to have the Siskey Entities involuntarily placed into Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  Joe Grier was appointed as Trustee over the Siskey Entities.  In reports to the Bankruptcy Court, Grier has stated that "the Trustee and his professionals are of the opinion that [the Siskey Entities] were each operated as part of a Ponzi scheme."  But Grier also recognized that Siskey did have some legitimate investment ventures, including various business lines and investment deals that were not part of the Ponzi scheme.  This includes Siskey's apparent realization of nearly $20 million in returns from participation in a securities offering relating to Carolina Beer & Beverage Holdings, LLC.  Siskey's victims submitted claims to the Bankruptcy Court and the Trustee subsequently approved nearly $37 million in outstanding claims.  

Siskey's MansionSiskey used investor funds for various unauthorized reasons in running his scheme, including paying fictitious returns to other investors and supporting a lavish lifestyle for himself and his family.  For example, Siskey was an avid wine collector whose extensive collection was ultimately liquidated by the Trustee for approximately $1.5 million.  Siskey's antique car collection was also put up for auction, along with his 6,000 square foot mansion and various furnishings including a 5-carat diamond ring.  According to the auctioneer, the auction took place after Siskey's son threw an unauthorized party at the mansion.

Siskey's Life Insurance Policies

But those assets paled in comparison to what may have been Siskey's best investment: the purchase of life insurance policies that made nearly $50 million in payouts to his family after his death.  Those proceeds were the subject of immediate scrutiny following Siskey's death, with the Trustee asserting that they were purchased using stolen investor funds and Siskey's wife disputing that position.  The source of the funds used to purchase and maintain the policies has significant ramifications, as the Trustee has taken the position that those funds belong to the bankruptcy estate and should be used to compensate Siskey's defrauded victims.  Siskey's wife agreed to initially return $11 million of the proceeds to the Trustee, and $10 million of those proceeds were used to fund an initial distribution to creditors that constituted roughly 28% of each investor's approved claim.

Following negotiations with various parties including Rick Siskey's family and MetLife, the Trustee filed a motion seeking approval of a settlement in which Siskey's family would return a total of $33.1 million (which includes the initial $11 million that was paid by the family) in insurance proceeds to the bankruptcy estate in exchange for a release of all claims the Trustee could assert against the family.  MetLife agreed to a similar arrangement whereby it would pay $250,000 to the estate in exchange for a release of claims by the Trustee.  Both MetLife and the Siskey family also agreed to make additional payments to a separate settlement fund in the bankruptcy estate that would be used to pay victims agreeing to release any individual claims they might have against MetLife and/or the Siskey Family, with MetLife agreeing to chip in an additional $750,000 and the Siskey family agreeing to pay another $8.2 million. 

Investors' decision to release the Siskey family and/or MetLife would be completely optional and independent of their ability to participate in distributions stemming from the $33.35 million paid by Siskey's family and MetLife.  The Trustee estimates that investors could ultimately recoup approximately 90% of their approved losses should they agree to release MetLife and the Siskey family.  In the event that investors chose not to release the Siskey family or MetLife, they would receive nearly 70% of their approved losses and be free to pursue MetLife and/or the Siskey family for any additional amounts.  Already, at least some investors have announced their opposition to the settlement because they contend it would be used to "shield the company" from those investors' pending claims against MetLife in state court.  MetLife has characterized those investors' position as "based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the" proposed settlement and asked the Court to deny the opposition.

Another 'Holy Grail' of Recovery?

It should be noted that the proposed recovery scenarios - i.e., that investors will recover 90% of their investment if they participate in all available recovery options - are contemplated only based on funds contributed in the settlement and do not include their potential to receive additional distributions of funds already marshaled by the Siskey estate.  For example, the Trustee's settlement motion indicates that the Administrator of Siskey's estate has at least $5.5 million in cash on hand (funded in part by the liquidation of Siskey's personal property, cars, and eal estate) as well as other assets that are expected to be converted to cash in the future.  The administrator of Siskey's estate was also included in the Trustee's settlement and agreed in relevant part to pay 100% of the net value of the estate into the Trustee's settlement fund to allow future distributions to Siskey's victims. 

Thus, it is possible - and indeed more than likely - that Siskey's investors are moving closer to the "holy grail" possibility of recovering all of their losses through the efforts of court-appointed fiduciaries.  To date, Ponzitracker is aware of three such scenarios in the past eight years: the Management Solutions $220 million Ponzi scheme, Scott Rothstein's $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme, and David Dadante's $58 million Ponzi scheme. Such an outcome is extremely rare, as it is estimated that the average investor recovery from a Ponzi scheme is less than 10%.   

The common denominator in those rare instances where a 100% (or more) recovery is possible is the existence of a third-party recovery or source of funds that might not otherwise be typically available.  In Rothstein's case, the alleged complicity of a TD Bank vice president led to TD Bank's payment of over $100 million towards the recovery and suits by various investors.  In the case of Dadante and Management Solutions, the existence of other appreciating assets in the receivership estate (and shrewd decisions by the respective receivers) served as a windfall used to plug the gap.  While the pursuit of "net winners" for excess profits is typically the tool most used to generate assets for defrauded victims, it is the availability and identification of third-party recoveries or assets that typically leads to any meaningful recovery.

A hearing on the Trustee's Motion to Approve Settlement is scheduled to take place today. 

A list of top Ponzi recoveries is here.

The Trustee's case website is here.

The Trustee's motion to approve the settlement is here

Saturday
Jan052019

Accused Ponzi Schemer Caught Passing Note To Wife Urging Her To Hide Assets And Replace Good Wine With "Sh-t Wine"

“Have your dad take my golf clubs...Hide cash or checks … drink good wine in sub zero’s, replace with sh-- wine in basement...F--- them. They have taken enough! Get stuff out..."

- Letter allegedly written by Kevin Merrill and intercepted by prison guards

Facing an asset freeze and stuck behind bars pending trial on charges he masterminded a $354 million Ponzi scheme, a Maryland man's attempt to surreptitiously slip his wife a note urging her to conceal and dispose of assets ended in disaster when authorities intercepted the note and filed criminal charges against the wife. According to authorities, Kevin Merrill and his wife, Amanda Merrill, communicated over several months about hiding and disposing of certain luxury assets that were subject to a court-ordered asset freeze. The scheme ultimately culminated in prison officials' discovery of a note in Kevin Merrill's sock during a jailhouse visit containing directions for his wife to dispose of golf clubs, hide cash, and to substitute high-end wine with "sh-- wine in [the] basement."  Amanda Merrill was subsequently charged with conspiracy, obstruction, disobeying a court order, and removing property to prevent its seizure.

The Scheme

Kevin Merrill and two business partners were the subject of civil and criminal charges in September 2018 for what authorities alleged was a massive Ponzi scheme touting outsized returns from a purported consumer debt operation. Authorities alleged that Merrill, Jay B. Ledford, and Cameron Jezierski operated a number of entities including Global Credit Recovery, LLC; Delmarva Capital, LLC; Rhino Capital Holdings, LLC; Rhino Capital Group, LLC; DeVille Asset Management LTD; and Riverwalk Financial Corporation (the "GCR Entities").  The GCR Entities allegedly solicited investors through promises of steady returns from the deeply-discounted purchase of consumer debt portfolios.  Consumer debt, including automobile, credit card, and student loan debt, is often bundled into portfolios and sold in bulk to investors, which the GCR Entities told investors they were purchasing for their benefit.  While the scheme involved the actual purchase of some debt portfolios, authorities allege that the vast majority of purported debt purchases were fraudulent and that the actual purchases of debt portfolios were used as part of the scheme to solicit more investors. 

Using a dizzying array of interwoven entities and bank accounts, the trio allegedly solicited both individual and institutional investors across the nation through the provision of documentation describing the investment structure and presentations offering projections about the anticipated investment returns.  These promises included offering some investors 100% of collections of up to 25% of their principal investment annually - meaning those investors were offered annual returns of up to 25% along with the option for even higher returns.  Potential investors also received "due diligence" documents prepared by Ledford or Jezierski providing a supposed analysis of the portfolio(s) they were purchasing as well as the anticipated purchase price. In total, the GCR Entities are believed to have raised over $345 million from at least 230 investors. 

But authorities allege that the GCR Entities had not been in the business of buying consumer debt since 2014, and that the purported investment opportunity was a giant Ponzi scheme that used new investor funds to pay returns to existing investors.  Approximately $197 million was paid out as purported remittances, collections, or profits, meaning that investors are facing total losses of roughly $150 million.  Unfortunately, authorities believe that a significant portion of those losses were diverted to sustain the trio's extravagant lifestyles.  The indictment alleged that investor funds were used to buy over 20 high-end automobiles, at least nine houses, and over $8 million in jewelry, as well as at least $25 million in casino gambling. 

Merrill's Vast Assets

Merrill was apparently not frugal with the riches generated from the alleged scheme, with authorities seeking to forfeit a stunning array of real estate, luxury goods, and automobiles that were purportedly purchased with scheme proceeds.  In addition to a $10 million waterfront residence, a brand new 35' boat, an interest in an Gulfstream aircraft, and a 9+ carat diamond ring, Merrill also accumulated more than two dozen luxury automobiles that includes four Lamborghinis, two Rolls-Royces, and four Ferrarris.  Prosecutors also claimed that Merrill spent nearly $1 million at luxury goods retailer Louis Vuitton over a five-year period and was also an avid collector of red wine.

Following Merrill's arrest in September, authorities claim that he conspired with his wife to conceal and dispose of assets in violation of the Court's orders during coded jailhouse phone calls that included reference to their $10 million waterfront Florida home as the "restaurant."  Apparently unbeknownst to the pair, authorities were recording those calls.  During one of the calls, Merrill allegedly provided his wife with the code to a safe at their Florida home after which Amanda Merrill flew back to Maryland with two oversized suitcases.  Authorities later found $15,000 in cash at Amanda Merrill's residence and were then able to open the Florida safe using the code provided by Merrill to his wife. 

Agents later found a note in Merrill's sock prior to a scheduled jailhouse visit that contained instructions to sell his golf clubs, drink his high-end wine and replace it with "shit" wine, and to "get stuff out."  Amanda Merrill was then charged with multiple criminal counts in a December 10th complaint including conspiracy and removing property to prevent its seizure.  She was released without bail the following day.  

A link to the SEC's Complaint is here.

A link to the Indictment is here.

Wednesday
Jan022019

Mississippi University Will Return Most Of Ponzi Schemer's $400,000 Donation

A Mississippi university has reached an agreement to return nearly 90% of funds its athletic department received from a Mississippi man who pleaded guilty last year to operating a $100 million Ponzi scheme. The University of Mississippi, also known as Ole Miss, agreed to return a total of approximately $350,000 to the court-appointed receiver overseeing the recovery of assets for victims defrauded by the Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Arthur Lamar Adams.  The scheme, which is believed to be the largest Ponzi scheme in Mississippi history, was uncovered last year and Adams is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence.

The Scheme

Adams founded Madison Timber Properties, LLC ("Madison"), which held itself out as a timber harvesting company.  The company began soliciting potential investors in 2004, offering annual returns ranging from 12% to 15% through the harvest of timber from plots of lands owned by third parties.  In many cases, investors were told that they had sole rights to timber harvested from specific plots of lands.  Investments were typically memorialized by a one-year promissory note that could be rolled over, a timber deed and cutting agreement, a security agreement, a tract summary with the purported timber value, and a title search certificate.  Adams and Madison raised at least $85 million from 150 investors throughout the southeastern United States that would purportedly be used to purchase additional timber tracts.  

Many of these promises, however, were false according to authorities.  For example, Adams is accused of never having obtained the requisite harvesting rights to the land as he had claimed.  Many of the investment documents were allegedly forged by Adams, including the timber deed and cutting agreements as well as the tract summary showing the purported timber value.  In many cases, Adams is accused of pledging the same plots of land (to which he had no rights) to multiple parties.  Adams also allegedly misappropriated investor funds for unauthorized purposes, including for his own personal benefit and the development of unrelated construction projects in Oxford and Starkville, Mississippi.  New investor funds were also used to pay returns to existing investors - a classic hallmark of a Ponzi scheme.  

Adams was charged by civil and criminal authorities in May 2018, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to a 20-year term in October 2018.

The Receiver's Appointment and Pursuit of Transfers

At the SEC's request, Judge Reeves appointed Alysson Mills as a receiver tasked with recovering assets for defrauded victims (among other things).  The Receiver has focused her efforts on third parties that received transfers from Adams, including "recruiters" tasked with attracting new victims as well as charities and educational institutions.  One of those recipients was Ole Miss, which received over $400,000 from Adams in the past ten years.  The university initially agreed to return approximately $40,000 of that amount which had served as prepayment for 2018 football and 2019 baseball tickets and remained in discussions with Mills about the use and nature of the remaining funds.  In a report filed in December 2018, Mills indicated that the university had agreed to return an additional $310,169 which would result in the total recovery of roughly $350,000 of the $402,100 transferred by Adams.  Mills indicated that she would not seek the return of the remaining $52,264 based on her conclusion that Adams had received "tangible benefits" such as athletic event tickets.   

Mills' reports describe her efforts in seeking the repayment of transfers to other third parties, which include both pending litigation and informal discussions.  Those lawsuits not only target "recruiters" who were paid to funnel investors to Adams' scheme, but also various professionals who are accused of aiding the scheme.  On December 19, 2018, Mills filed suit against a number of defendants including two law firms that she alleged "lent their influence, their professional expertise, and even their clients to Adams and Madison Timber."  A copy of that complaint is available here.

The Receiver's website is available here.