The SEC has announced the shutdown of yet another Ponzi scheme-this one allegedly orchestrated by a Caribbean-based bank through the sale of bogus high-yield certificates of deposit.
The SEC said it has obtained an emergency court order to shut down the sale of the CDs, which were used by Millennium Bank, a licensed St. Vincent and the Grenadines bank, to raise $68 million from 375 investors since July 2004.
Investors thought, based on Millennium's marketing, that they were putting their money into a rock-solid CD backed by a Swiss-based parent company with 75 years banking experience, with a return 321% higher than conventional bank-issued CDs. In actuality, according to the SEC, the money was funneled into a U.S. bank account that was used as a personal piggy bank by participants in the scheme. The supposed parent company, they add, isn't even a Swiss-licensed bank or securities dealer.
"The defendants misappropriated a vast majority of the investor funds to enrich themselves and pay personal expenses, while making relatively small Ponzi payments to investors," according to the SEC.
The SEC complaint alleges that William J. Wise of Raleigh, N.C., and Kristi M. Hoegel of Napa, Calif., orchestrated the scheme through Millennium Bank, its Geneva, Switzerland-based parent United Trust of Switzerland S.A., and U.S.-based affiliates UT of S LLC and Millennium Financial Group. The complaint also names as defendant's Hoegel's mother, Jacqueline S. Hoegel, and Brijesh Chopra and Philippe Angeloni.
"The defendants disguised their Ponzi scheme as a legitimate offshore investment and made promises about exuberant returns that were just too good to be true," said Rose Romero, director of the SEC's Fort Worth Regional Office. "This case demonstrates that investors need to be especially cautious when placing money with entities that may be outside the reach of U.S. regulators."
The case is the latest in a series of alleged Ponzi schemes uncovered by the SEC since the $50 billion Bernie Madoff scheme was uncovered in December, although none has yet approached the size of the Madoff scandal. Industry experts have warned that the global market collapse could lead to the public unraveling of many more such schemes.