The Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") charged a Utah man with operating a real estate Ponzi scheme that may have bilked investors nationwide out of up to $27 million. In the latest in a string of Ponzi schemes recently uncovered in Utah, Ivan Wade Brown, 45, is alleged to have duped investors by purporting to provide "bridge loans" to homebuilders. The SEC's complaint, filed Monday, charges Brown with multiple violations of federal securities laws, and seeks injunctive relief, disgorgement of all ill-gotten gains, and civil monetary penalties. Additionally, the SEC has requested an asset freeze and the appointment of a receiver over Brown's companies.
Brown owned and operated Avanti Capital Partners, LLC (“Avanti”) and Highland Residential, LLC ("Highland"), which he formed for the purpose of raising capital to make real estate loans. Potential investors were told that they could expect above-average returns achieved by making "bridge loans" to aspiring homeowners who were currently unable to obtain a conventional home loan. These investments were advertised as nearly risk-free, with a worst case scenario resulting in only a 10% loss to an investor's principal. Investors were provided with promissory notes evidencing their investment and containing their promised rate of return. Ultimately, Brown issued nearly $13 million in Highland notes from October 2004 to January 2007, and nearly $14 million in Avanti notes from January 2007 to May 2008. Nearly 100 individuals nationwide invested with Brown, though a large amount were Utah residents.
However, according to the SEC, Brown failed to invest the majority of investor funds as promised. Instead, investor funds were used to make millions of dollars in interest and principal payments to existing investors, as well as to sustain Brown's lavish lifestyle. These personal expenses included the purchase of a luxury home in Alpine, Utah, a $120,000 down payment on his residence, a $225,000 airplane, and $650,000 towards the production of a motion picture.
Ironically, of the investments Brown did make on behalf of his investors, several were unwittingly made in unrelated Ponzi schemes. These included $1.25 million placed with DGB Enterprises, a company that purportedly operated a mineral refinery that promised a return of $11 million in nine months - a 1,040% return. Not surprisingly, DBG ended up being a fraud, and did not pay any of the advertised returns. Additionally, Brown purchased $28,000 in real estate insurance contracts, called LIVE-GRIPS, that promised to protect the value of Avanti's properties even if the real estate market took a downturn. This was also a fraud, and Brown lost his entire investment in LIVE-GRIPS.
The case is the latest in a number of high-profile Ponzi schemes recently uncovered in Utah. In late June, Wayne LaMar Palmer ("Palmer") and his company, National Note of Utah were charged with operating a $100 million Ponzi scheme. Additionally, a Utah father and son were accused in December 2011 with masterminding a massive Ponzi scheme that raised over $200 million. The widespread frauds prompted a CNBC segment hosted by Scott Cohn, dubbing Utah as "Ponziland" and noting that fraud had become so widespread that public authorities launched a public service campaign in 2010 to try and educate citizens. The piece pegged the current caseload at over 100 cases with an estimated $1.5 billion in losses. Authorities point to the large Mormon population as a primary target for fraudsters in what is termed "affinity fraud."
The CNBC Video can be viewed here:
A copy of the SEC's complaint is here.