North Carolina prosecutors have filed criminal charges against a Michigan man accused of masterminding a massive Ponzi scheme that duped over 10,000 victims out of at least $7 million by telling them he could deliver outlandish returns exceeding 700%. Troy Barnes, 53, was charged with one count of wire fraud conspiracy and three counts of wire fraud in an indictment unsealed today. The charges come after Barnes' accused co-conspirator in the scheme, Kristine Louis Johnson, was indicted earlier this summer and is currently awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty.
Johnson and Barnes operated Work With Troy Barnes Inc. ("WWTB"), which was subsequently rebranded as "The Achieve Community" ("Achieve") in April 2014. Johnson served as CFO of WWTB and Achieve and was responsible for day-to-day activities. Achieve solicited investors to purchase "positions" costing $50 each that in turn promised a pay-out of $400 per position in the subsequent three-to-six month period - a return of 700% and an annualized return exceeding 1000%. In a short video on Achieve's website, Johnson touted Achieve as a "lifetime income plan," and explained:
How are we a lifetime income plan? It’s simple. Every $50 position you purchase, you make $400. With two positions, you make $800. With five positions, you make $2,000. Want to go bigger? With twenty positions, you make $8,000. With one hundred positions, you make $40,000. This is limitless.
Barnes made similar claims, narrating a different Achieve video claiming that Achieve “will teach you how to take $50 and turn it into thousands of dollars, and that’s a fact.” Investors that questioned Achieve's ability to pay such exorbitant returns were assured that Achieve utilized a "triple algorithm" and "matrix" created by Johnson and Barnes. Johnson attempted to explain the "3-D matrix" as follows:
I thought, what can I do, what can I make, what can I design, that has only what works and none of what doesn’t, and one day, honestly this is what happened, I just saw it. I just saw it in my head. This matrix is 3D, which is why we can’t put it on paper. It’s a triple algorithm. And I can’t for the life of me tell you why I could figure that out in my head. But I could.
Investors were encouraged to re-invest their returns, with Barnes assuring investors that such a strategy would make it "very easy to make six figures." In total, Achieve took in at least $6.8 million from investors.
However, despite its claims that it was "not a pyramid scheme," both civil and criminal authorities alleged that Achieve was a pure Ponzi and pyramid scheme. For example, Achieve's sole source of revenue allegedly originated from investor contributions. Nor were any profits derived from legitimate business activities; rather, Achieve used funds contributed from new investors to make principal and interest payments to existing investors. Johnson admitted to taking more than $200,000 in investor funds for her own personal use.
Barnes' indictment marks a final chapter in authorities' investigation of the alleged Ponzi scheme, as some had speculated that Barnes may have avoided criminal prosecution given that he was not indicted along with Johnson back in June 2015.
The indictment is below. Special thanks to Don at ASDUpdates.