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Recent SEC Releases

'Junior Bernie Madoff' Gets 10-Year Sentence for $10 Million Ponzi Scheme

A Florida man thought to be one of the youngest Ponzi schemers in history was sentenced to serve ten years in prison for masterminding an elaborate Ponzi scheme that netted him an Italian girlfriend, a house in Rome, and even a role in an Italian movie.  Donald R. French, 26, received the sentence after previously pleading guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, which carried a possible maximum term of twenty years in prison.  U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp, who delivered the sentence, stated he found Ponzi schemes to be 'outrageous,' and rejected French's attorney's request to sentence French to the lower end of the 8-to-10 year range under federal sentencing guidelines.  In delivering a sentence of 121 months, Judge Ryskamp questioned whether French was truly remorseful and branded him "just a junior Bernie Madoff."  

Beginning in 2008, when he was just 21, French founded D3 Capital Management LLC ("D3"), appealing to high net-worth investors by listing an office address in the ritzy Mizner Park area of Boca Raton, Florida.  Holding itself out as a 'premier provider of global investment management' with offices in Hong Kong and Rome, D3 promised investors lucrative annual returns of fifty percent or more through investments in foreign currency, solar energy, and commodities such as emeralds.  In total, D3 managed to amass over $10 million from over 20 investors.

However, as French later confessed to an FBI agent, the lucrative returns were nothing more than an elaborate Ponzi scheme that existed solely to support a lavish lifestyle.  This included living abroad in Rome for five years, frequent foreign travel, and extensive gambling losses.  Indeed, the Mizner Park address listed as the principal office address for D3 turned out to be nothing more than a phone number and an address.  Additionally, French invested no more than 15% of investor funds in legitimate investments, and admitted that he later withdrew the majority of the money he put in those investments.  

French attributed his ability to convince investors to part with their hard-earned money to his "gift of gab." Using investor funds, French accumulated more than $1 million in debit card purchases and withdrew more than $1 million in cash while using investor funds as his personal piggy bank.  

French was arrested in South Africa earlier this summer and subsequently deported to Las Vegas to face charges that he passed nearly $1 million in phony checks.  According to authorities, French was a frequent visitor to Las Vegas, where he racked up exorbitant gambling debts that were later satisfied with investor funds.  However, even after investor funds were depleted, French continued to frequent Las Vegas, where he racked up $600,000 in charges at popular casino The Cosmopolitan from April 2011 to June 2011.  

French pled guilty to bad check charges in Nevada last summer, which landed him a 30-month prison sentence.  


Introducing BriefCache by Ponzitracker

 Two years ago, Ponzitracker was launched with a simple goal in mind - to serve as a comprehensive resource on the proliferation of Ponzi schemes.  This has included regular reporting on schemes across the world, as well as other educational information regardless of whether the audience was a victim, litigant, or lawyer. (This audience apparently also included perpetrators, as one recent decision from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals showed.)  This information has remained free of charge, and free of advertisements or other distractions.  Since its launch, Ponzitracker has strived to stay at the forefront of Ponzi litigation, and in doing so has been recognized as a Top 25 Business Blog by Lexis Nexis and is routinely ranked as one of the top blogs by Avvo.  Today, it will go one step further by introducing Briefcache.

With a steadily-growing library of 500+ articles, the thought recently occurred as to how Ponzitracker could function as a resource not only for the casual reader, but for practitioners in the rapidly growing niche industry of Ponzi litigation.  As hundreds of Ponzi schemes have been uncovered in the past several years, a strengthening legal jurisprudence is emerging.  However, much of this information is not easily available.

Today, Ponzitracker will launch Briefcache, which is the beginning of efforts to make the burgeoning jurisprudence of Ponzi litigation available to all.  Briefcache features thousands of legal documents categorized by topic that have been filed, litigated, and decided in Ponzi scheme receivership and bankruptcy cases.  From the sale of airplanes to status reports to recovering land to returning funds to victims, these documents are all now available after months of preparation and indexing.  

Best of all, Briefcache will be free of charge.  While it will remain a work in progress, it is my sincere hope that it may function as a valuable and worthwhile resource to whatever audience may decide to utilize it.  

A link to Briefcache is here.

Questions, comments, or criticism are welcome at



Former Middle School Teacher Charged in $1 Million Ponzi Scheme

A former middle school teacher has been charged with fraud after authorities accused him of operating a Ponzi scheme that took in more than $1 million from friends and family, including school district colleagues. Federal authorities announced that Carl David Wright, 52, had agreed to plead guilty to a single count of mail fraud in connection with the scheme, which carries a maximum possible prison term of twenty years.  In a parallel action, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission ("CFTC") announced it was also filing civil charges against Wright.  

Wright worked as a schoolteacher at Lincolnton Middle School in Cherryville, North Carolina since 1986, where he taught career and technical education, and also worked as a painter on the side.  Sometime in 2008, he opened a futures trading account, and began soliciting family and friends to invest in a commodity pool he operated named Commodity Investment Group ("CIG").  Potential investors were promised short-term returns ranging from 10% to 30%, and understood that their funds would be used as loans for Wright's painting business, for the purchase and resale of gas stations, or to trade commodities such as grain futures, crude oil futures, or currency futures.  At least some of these investors were provided with a Special Renewable Note Agreement (the "Note"), which often carried a 2-6 month term and a fixed interest rate.  In total, Wright raised more than $1 million from investors.

However, rather than use investor funds as promised, Wright misappropriated funds and operated the classic Ponzi scheme by using incoming investor funds to pay returns to existing investors.  Of the approximately $60,000 that was actually used to trade commodity futures, Wright suffered nearly 100% trading losses.  Instead, the majority of funds was used to pay back investors, and Wright also misappropriated approximately $300,000 for his own personal use.  

After Wright abruptly retired from the school district on March 15, 2013, an investigation by the U.S. Postal Service and North Carolina securities regulators resulted in Wright's confession to operating the scheme.  At the time of the investigation, less than $1,000 of investor funds remained.

A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

A copy of the CFTC complaint is here.


Former Bank of America Banker Charged in $2.1 Million Ponzi Scheme

A Massachusetts woman who worked as a personal banker at Bank of American for more than a decade has been charged with operating a Ponzi scheme that duped victims out of more than $2 million.  Elaina Patterson, 53, was charged with 16 counts of larceny over $250 and 15 counts of larceny over $250 from a person over 60.  Each charge of larceny over $250 carries a maximum jail term of five years (less if a fine is also ordered), while each charge of larceny from a person over 60 carries a maximum imprisonment of ten years.  

According to authorities, Patterson began working at Bank of America in 1999 at a branch in Reading, Massachusetts.  After gaining the trust of family and friends, she began pushing investments that she represented were reserved only for corporate and high-level clients due to their lucrative annual returns ranging from 10% to 15%.  Customers were given fake depository receipts and tax forms to add an air of legitimacy, and Patterson took in a total of more than $6 million from over 30 investors.

However, Patterson allegedly did not use the funds as intended, instead setting up a series of shadow accounts that she used to funnel investors funds both to herself and to other investors under the guise of interest payments.  In total, nearly $4 million was paid back to investors.  When the scheme began to falter in 2009, Patterson allegedly stole money from the accounts of older investors to disguise the theft.

Bank of America became aware of the fraud after doing its own initial investigation, and subsequently notified authorities. 


After Several Bizarre Twists, California Man Receives Sixteen Years for $80 Million Ponzi Scheme

“You are a liar. Numerous victims have described their financial crisis as a result of your crime and the heart rendering consequences they are enduring because of your fraudulent conduct....A substantial prison sentence will be protect the public.”

-U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell, Jr. 

After a series of bizarre events that included an extortion attempt involving the impersonation of federal officers and an unsuccessful attempt to withdraw a guilty plea, a California man was sentenced to serve the next sixteen years in federal prison for masterminding a Ponzi scheme that took in more than $80 million from investors.  After originally pleading guilty to one count of wire fraud in February 2013, Anthony Vassallo, 34, recently tried to change his plea when he claimed that he had been coerced into entering the plea agreement by prosecutors and his own defense attorney.  However, United States District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. did not mince his words in rejecting this attempt, declaring that Vassallo had no credibility and branding him a 'liar' at a later hearing.

Beginning in April 2006, Vassallo, along with several others, operated Equity Investment, Management, and Trading Inc. (EIMT) in Folsom, California.  EIMT purported to be a hedge fund investment company that achieved lucrative returns through the use of a computer program designed by Vassallo to time the stock market.  These returns, which were as high as 36% annually, were promised with little to no risk of loss of an investor's principal.  To convince investors of the scheme's legitimacy, investors were invited to visit Vassallo's office to observe the trading program in action.  In total, investors contributed more than $80 million to the scheme.

However, according to authorities, the computer screens shown to investors were nothing more than 'dummy' computer screens designed only to fool investors.  Rather than deliver the exorbitant returns through legitimate trading, Vassallo perpetrated the classic Ponzi scheme by using investor funds to make payouts to existing investors.  While Vassallo did engage in some trading, he experienced heavy losses of investor funds, and by September 2007 he had virtually ceased trading.  Of the remaining funds, Vassallo made Ponzi-like payments to investors, as well as sustaining a lavish lifestyle that included the purchase of a $103,000 Lexus for his wife.

The case also featured an attempt at 'vigilante' justice when Vassallo's former bodyguard was charged with impersonating a federal agent in an attempt to 'shake-down' a pair of businessmen who had recently invested with Vassallo.  Along with several others, the bodyguard confronted the men and demanded the return of over $378,000.  The men, who brandished fake identification, bullet-proof vests, and radio earpieces, also threatened at least one of the investor's families.  The bodyguard and the men were each sentenced to a term of probation.

A hearing has been set for August 23, 2013 to determine the amount of restitution Vassallo will be ordered to pay to his victims.