Two California men have entered guilty pleas to operating a massive Ponzi scheme that allegedly caused losses of over $100 million to victims who thought they were investing in a profitable ATM leasing operation. Joel Barry Gillis, 74, and Edward Wishner, 76, each entered a guilty plea to one count of conspiracy, two counts of mail fraud, and one count of wire fraud before U.S. District Judge S. James Otero. Both men are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Otero on March 30, and could potentially face decades in prison.
Gillis and Wishner operated Nationwide Automated Solutions ("NAS"). According to authorities, NAS solicited investors since 1999 by promising that their funds would be used to place, operate, and maintain automated teller machines ("ATMs") throughout the country. Investors were told that they could purchase ATMs for a price ranging from $12,000 to $19,800 from NAS, and could then lease those same ATMs back to NAS for a 10-year term in exchange for a "rent" of $.50 per ATM transaction. A contract memorializing the investment purportedly contained the serial number and the location of the ATM, and investors were guaranteed an investment return of at least 20% annually. Notably, each contract also included a "non-interference" clause prohibiting the investor from interfering with the operation of the ATM by contacting the locations where the ATM was installed or any ATM service provider. An analysis of NAS' bank accounts from 2013 forward showed that more than $123 million was raised from investors in just that short period.
While the company's records showed that it had sold and was leasing back more than 31,000 ATMs to investors as of June 2014, third-party settlement reports provided by NAS's ATM servicers show that only 253 ATMs were serviced. As the SEC previously alleged,
Defendants have “sold” and “leased back” tens of thousands of ATMs to NASI investors that they never owned, that they never operated, and that may have never existed.
For example, while NAS's internal records claimed ownership or operation of nearly 700 ATMs located at "Casey's Convenience Mart" locations in the Midwest, the Commission's investigation showed that neither NAS nor any of its investors owned or serviced any of those ATMs. Rather, those ATMs were owned by an unrelated company with no affiliation with NAS. The Commission also alleged that NAS often sold and leased back the same ATM to more than one investor. Of the ATMs that NAS did service, those revenues were minimal and were dwarfed by the significant amount of new investor funds. Those investor funds were used to pay returns to existing investors - a classic hallmark of a Ponzi scheme.
Authorities alleged that NAS bounced over $3 million in checks to investors in August 2014, with investors told that a "glitch" in connection with retention of a new outside firm handling investor payments was to blame.
Authorities began investigating NAS shortly after the bounced checks, with court records in the SEC's case demonstrating that an application for a temporary injunction and other relief was filed on September 17, 2014. Criminal charges were filed several months later.
A receiver, William Hoffman, was appointed at the request of the SEC, and a website has been established at http://www.nasi-nationwideatm.com/ for interested parties.