The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged a husband and wife team with fraud for selling charitable gift annuities that they used mostly as piggy-banks for themselves.
The SEC says that the Florida couple, Richard K. Olive and Susan L. Olive, scrounged up $75 million from some 450 investors, most of whom were elderly, in more than 30 states through the Tallahassee, Fla.-based charitable organization We The People Inc. Richard Olive is the company’s former chief of program services, and Susan Olive its former chief of finance and administration.
A charitable gift annuity like those sold by the couple generally allows a donor to give assets to a charity in exchange for a fixed-sum payout. According to the SEC, however, very little of the money raised by the Olives and We The People actually went to charities.
“The commission alleges that We The People—through the Olives—lured investors by making various false and misleading statements regarding, among other things, the value of the products sold and the safety and security of the investments.”
The agency says that We the People lured mostly elderly investors to shift assets such as equities, real estate, cash and annuities to the company in exchange for the gift annuities. The company represented itself as a non-profit but its primary purpose was issuing the annuity products, for which the Olives received substantial payments. Nor did the Olives tell investors they’d had other indictments and regulatory sanctions leveled against them for similar products, the SEC alleges.
In one instance, the company said it had given $21.8 million in relief aid to AIDS orphans in Zambia. But the SEC says We The People made only a small payment and others shipped the supplies.
The annuity products primarily helped the Olives and third-party consultants, says the agency, alleging that the couple took in some $1.1 million in salary and commissions and shifted investor funds to personal expenses.
The SEC filed separate complaints today against We The People as well as the company’s in-house counsel William G. Reeves. (The company and Reeves agreed to settle the charges without admitting or denying the allegations.) The agency is seeking disgorgement of the gains by the Olives, as well as financial penalties against the couple. The complaint charges them with violations of the antifraud provisions of federal securities laws, as well as securities and broker-dealer registration provisions.