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Wednesday
Jun202018

SEC Busts $102 Million Ponzi Scheme Targeting Financial Advisor Books Of Business

At the same time he was misappropriating investor funds, Santillo threw himself a party at a nightclub in Las Vegas for which he commissioned a song about himself to be played. The lyrics to that song refer to (Perry) Santillo as "King Perry" and describe his typical attire: "ten-thousand-dollar suit everywhere he rides." The song also depicts his lifestyle as follows: "pop the champagne in L.A., New York to Florida; buy another bottle just to spray it all over ya."

- SEC Complaint

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed an emergency enforcement action in a New York federal court, alleging that five men and their associated companies raised more than $100 million from hundreds of victims with promises of guaranteed returns.  Perry Santillo, Christopher Parris, Paul LaRocco, John Piccarretto, and Thomas Brenner, along with First Nationle Solution LLC ("First Nationle"), United RL Capital Services ("United"), and Percipience Global Corp. ("Percipience"), were charged with violating the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws.  The Manhattan district court also granted the SEC's request for an asset freeze and temporary restraining order against the defendants, based partly on allegations of Defendants' significant misappropriation of funds for their personal use.

According to the Commission's Complaint, Santillo and Parris sought out retiring investment professionals nationwide with the goal of purchasing those professionals' "books of business" consisting of the clients they had serviced and advised during their career.  The scheme's victims appear to be concentrated in several states, with over $25 million raised from 147 Florida investors, $21 million raised from at least 80 California investors, and over $8 million raised from nearly 75 Ohio investors.  After purchasing or taking over those books of business, the Defendants or other sales people would then contact those clients and seek to persuade them to withdraw their funds from traditional investments and invest in companies controlled by various Defendants including First Nationle, Percipience, and United RL. 

First Nationle was touted to investors as a holding company for several companies with insurance and risk products managing over $145 million in assets that offered investors three-year promissory notes with annual interest payments ranging from 3.3% - 6% as well as "bonuses" rnaging from 10% - 19% that were credited after the investment was made.  Percipience claimed to be in the business of funding loans for the purchase of single-family homes, offering preferred stock to potential investors carrying one- or three-year "lock periods" and annual returns ranging from 7% - 8% also with bonuses upon investment.  Finally, United RL purported to offer financing to physician and medical practices for the purposes of owning toxicology laboratories and offered promissory notes to potential investors with maturity dates of 1-3 years and offering annual returns of 7% along with 7% "bonus" payments.  In total, the Defendants raised more than $102 million from at least 637 investors.  

The Commission alleges that each of those offerings was a sham, noting that it was unable to find any evidence showing more than minimal business functions for the companies.  Instead, the Commission claims that each company operated as a Ponzi scheme in which new investor funds were used to pay returns to existing investors.  Of the $102 million raised from investors, more than $38.5 million was allegedly paid out as Ponzi payments to existing investors while at least $20 million was misappropriated by the Defendants for unrelated personal expenditures including sustaining luxury lifestyles.  For example, the Commission alleges that Santillo used stolen investor funds to pay for housing in multiple states, lease cars, and spending at a Las Vegas resort and casino.  Santillo is accused of using investor funds to have a song written about him, including lyrics referring to him as "King Perry" who wore "ten-thousand-dollar suites everywhere he rides" and would "pop the champagne in L.A., New York to Florida; buy another bottle just to spray it all over ya."

The SEC's Complaint also underscores the critical role that due diligence must play in investment decisions, as there appear to be a number of red flags that were easily discoverable that might have caused a prudent investor to at a minimum ask more questions.  For example. each of the five Defendants was previously registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA"), which oversees registration and regulation of investment professionals.  A review of each of those Defendants' BrokerCheck, which is a publicly-available resource offered by FINRA, shows that each had been suspended or barred from associating with FINRA members.  For example, Defendant Piccarreto was registered with FINRA from 2014-2015 but was suspended for 23 months in July 2017 for participating in the unregistered offering of securities and for making misleading statements to FINRA.  

A copy of the SEC's Complaint is here.

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