The Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday said it charged a Philadelphia-area advisor with misappropriating millions of dollars of client money in a case that's "in the nature of a Ponzi scheme." This was the sixth such incident announced this month alone by the agency, and is part of a seeming wave of Ponzi schemes or other similar skullduggery that began with the Bernard Madoff affair late last year.

The SEC charged D.A. Walker "Tony" Young and his investment advisory firm, Acorn Capital Management in the Philadelphia suburb of Kennett Square, Pa., with stealing more than $23 million from investors who bought limited partnership interests in Acorn II L.P., which invested in publicly-traded securities. The SEC alleges that Young stole some of the money to buy a vacation home in Palm Beach, Fla., as well as other luxuries relating to horse ownership and racing, boats, limousines, and chartered aircraft.

The agency said Young covered his tracks by giving phony information to investors' accountants and supplying clients with false financial statements. The SEC's complaint against Young said that the Acorn II account has roughly $3 million in assets for about 40 investors, but that Young--who had nearly total control and access to the money--gave bogus information to the broker-dealer holding the account to make it seem like the fund held another $23 million at two other broker-dealers.

The SEC said the investigation is continuing.

Meanwhile, the agency last week charged an El Segundo, Calif. promoter, Clelia Flores, and her firm, Maximum Return Investments Inc., with targeting Hispanic-Americans in a $23 million Ponzi scheme involving investor money in bank trading, oil and gold exploration, or real estate programs.

The SEC alleges that Flores promised returns of up to 25% within 30 to 45 days for more than 150 investors in seven states between late 2006 and early 2008, and that she and her firm used millions of dollars from new investors to pay principal and returns to prior investors. The agency charges that Flores used investor money to pay for personal expenses and to throw a lavish party to celebrate her firm's so-called financial success.

"The context is that in bad markets people try to cash out their money, and that's when these schemes start to unravel," says an SEC spokesman, speaking on background. He notes the agency doesn't categorize Ponzi schemes as an enforcement category by itself, but as part of a broader category of emergency enforcement action to stop ongoing fraud.

And the agency tabulates them on a yearly--not quarterly--basis, the spokesman says, adding he doesn't know how the roughly 25 cases in this year's first quarter compares with last year's first quarter.

Among other cases earlier this month, the SEC charged a Marietta, Ga.-based attorney with operating a $35 million Ponzi scheme involving promissory notes used to raise funds in purported real estate deals.

Before that, the agency charged a Denver-area advisor, Shawn Merriman, with running a Ponzi scheme through his company, Market Street Advisors. The SEC alleges that Merriman raised up to $20 million from at least 38 investors in various states to invest in stocks and options, didn't invest the funds after his first year in business during which he racked up losses, issued falsified financial statements to clients, and used millions of dollars in investor funds to support his lavish lifestyle and pay out withdrawals by other investors.

First « 1 2 » Next