Investors were promised an amusement park, but according to litigators, the developers ended up taking them for a ride.
Three men allegedly used investor funds raised to build a Georgia amusement park and resort for luxury shopping sprees, high-end resorts, foreign cars and day trading.
Matthew White, Rodney Zehner and Daniel Merandi were accused of fraud and had their assets and assets held by shell companies under their control frozen by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.
The SEC alleges that the three men have unsuccessfully attempted to develop the Grand Empire Palace and Resorts outside of Atlanta, Ga., for nearly a decade.
Launching the project in 2005, White and Zehner imagined a resort including rides, a water park, conference center, 6,500-seat performing arts center, hotels, restaurants and retail shops, but were unable to raise funding. In 2009, the planned site for the resort entered foreclosure, and the men sought alternative methods to fund their vision.
White and Zehner allegedly settled on a structured funding scheme to fund the project by issuing $1 billion in corporate bonds.
Though they fell well short of their fundraising goal, the SEC alleges that the men raised at least $5.6 million from investors, which they were supposed to use to buy a securities portfolio that would collateralize the bonds.
However, rather than build the portfolio, the defendants allegedly used investor money to fund shopping sprees at Saks Fifth Avenue, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Versace and Republic of Couture. The men allegedly also used the money at luxury accomodations like West Virginia’s Greenbrier resort, at Mercedes dealerships and to fund investment accounts.
Merandi allegedly used $1 million of the proceeds to engage in day trading in a TD Ameritrade account, losing $637,000 over a 24-month period.
Some investor funds were transferred to business accounts, personal accounts and the accounts of family members, friends and business associates.