Real Estate Investor Pleads Guilty to Bid Rigging and Fraud Conspiracies at Georgia Public Foreclosure Auctions

A Georgia real estate investor pleaded guilty today for his role in conspiracies to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Fulton and DeKalb counties, Georgia.

Morris Podber admitted that he conspired with others not to bid against one another at public real estate foreclosure auctions on selected properties.  After the public foreclosure auctions, Podber admitted that he and his co-conspirators would divvy up the targeted properties in private side auctions, open only to the conspirators.  Podber admitted to conspiring to use the mail to carry out their fraud, which included making and receiving payoffs and diverting money to co-conspirators that should have gone to the mortgage holders and others.

“This is the ninth real estate investor held accountable for bid rigging at public foreclosure auctions in Georgia,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “We will continue to root out anticompetitive conduct at foreclosure auctions and obtain justice for homeowners and lenders.”

According to documents filed with the court, the purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and restrain competition and divert money to the conspirators that otherwise would have gone to pay off the mortgage and other holders of debt secured by the properties, and, in some cases, the defaulting homeowner.  Podber admitted to participating in a conspiracy in Fulton County from July 2005 until August 2010; and to participating in a conspiracy in DeKalb County from October 2006 to August 2011.

“Incidents of bid rigging at public real estate auctions continue to be an issue in Georgia and elsewhere in the United States, and the FBI would like to remind the public that such matters are violations of federal law,” said Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office.  “The FBI will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division in identifying, investigating and prosecuting those individuals engaged in such activities.”

The ongoing investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal II Section, the FBI’s Atlanta Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Georgia.  Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Washington Criminal II Section of the Antitrust Division at 202-598-4000, call the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 888-647-3258 or visit

The charges were brought in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.  With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and state and local partners, it is the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud.  Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets; and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations.  Since fiscal year 2009, the Justice Department has filed over 18,000 financial fraud cases against more than 25,000 defendants.  For more information about the task force, please visit

SEC Charges Three RMBS Traders With Defrauding Investors



Washington D.C., Sept. 8, 2015 —The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced fraud charges against three traders accused of repeatedly lying to customers relying on them for honest and accurate pricing information about residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS).

The SEC alleges that Ross Shapiro, Michael Gramins, and Tyler Peters defrauded customers to illicitly generate millions of dollars in additional revenue for Nomura Securities International, the New York-based brokerage firm where they worked.  They misrepresented the bids and offers being provided to Nomura for RMBS as well as the prices at which Nomura bought and sold RMBS and the spreads the firm earned intermediating RMBS trades.  They also trained, coached, and directed junior traders at the firm to engage in the same misconduct.

In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut announced criminal charges against Shapiro, Gramins, and Peters, who no longer work at Nomura.

“The alleged misconduct reflects a callous disregard for the integrity and obligations expected of registered securities professionals,” said Andrew Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. “Not only did these traders lie to their customers, but they created a corrupt culture on Nomura’s trading desk by coaching more junior traders to employ the same deceptive and dishonest trading practices we allege in our complaint.”

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan:

  • The lies and omissions to customers by Shapiro, Gramins, and Peters generated at least $5 million in additional revenue for Nomura, and lies and omissions by the subordinates they trained and coached generated at least $2 million in additional profits for the firm.
  • Nomura determined bonuses for Shapiro, Gramins, and Peters based on several factors including revenue generation.  Nomura paid total compensation of $13.3 million to Shapiro, $5.8 million to Gramins, and $2.9 million to Peters during the years this misconduct was occurring.
  • Customers sought and relied on market price information from these traders because the market for this type of RMBS is opaque and accurate price information is difficult for a customer to determine.  Therefore it was particularly important for the traders to provide honest and accurate information.
  • Shapiro, Gramins, and Peters went so far as to invent phantom third-party sellers and fictional offers when Nomura already owned the bonds the traders were pretending to obtain for potential buyers.

The SEC’s complaint charges Shapiro, Gramins, and Peters with violating Section 10(b) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 as well as Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933.

The SEC separately entered into deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) with three other individuals who have extensively cooperated with the SEC’s investigation and provided enforcement staff with access to critical evidence that otherwise would not have been available.

“The SEC is open to deferring charges based on certain factors, including when cooperators come forward with timely and credible information while candidly acknowledging their own misconduct,” said Michael Osnato, Chief of the SEC’s Complex Financial Instruments Unit.  “The decision to defer charges in this matter reflects the early and sustained assistance provided by these individuals.”

The SEC’s continuing investigation is being conducted by James R. Drabick, Susan Curtin, Rua Kelly, and Celia Moore.  The SEC’s litigation will be led by Ms. Kelly.

Indictment Charges Three People with Running $54 Million “Green Energy” Ponzi Scheme

An indictment was unsealed today charging three people in an investment scheme, involving a Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania-based company, that defrauded more than 300 investors from around the country.  Troy Wragg, 34, a former resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Amanda Knorr, 32, of Hellertown, Pennsylvania, and Wayde McKelvy, 52, of Colorado, are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud and seven counts of wire fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Special Agent in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division.

As the founders of the Mantria Corporation, Wragg and Knorr allegedly promised investors huge returns for investments in supposedly profitable business ventures in real estate and “green energy.”  According to the indictment, Mantria was a Ponzi scheme in which new investor money was used to pay “earnings” to prior investors since the businesses actually generated meager revenues and no profits.  To induce investors to invest funds, it is alleged that Wragg and Knorr repeatedly made false representations and material omissions about the economic state of their businesses.

Between 2005 and 2009, Wragg, Knorr and McKelvy, through Mantria, intended to raise over $100 million from investors through Private Placement Memorandums (PPMs).  In actuality, they raised $54.5 million.  Wragg and Knorr were allegedly able to raise such a large sum of money through the efforts of McKelvy.  McKelvy operated what he called “Speed of Wealth” clubs which advertised on television, radio and the internet, held seminars for prospective investors and promised to make them rich.  According to the indictment, McKelvy taught investors to liquidate all their assets such as mutual funds and 401k plans, to take out as many loans out as possible, such as home mortgages and credit card debt and invest all those funds in Mantria.  During those seminars and other programs, Wragg, Knorr and McKelvy allegedly lied to prospective investors to dupe them into investing in Mantria and promised investment returns as high as 484 percent.

It is further alleged that Wragg, Knorr and McKelvy spent a considerable amount of the investor money on projects to give investors the impression that they were operating wildly profitable businesses.  Wragg, Knorr and McKelvy allegedly used the remainder of the funds raised for their own personal enrichment.  Wragg, Knorr and McKelvy allegedly continued to defraud investors until November 2009 when the SEC initiated civil securities fraud proceedings against Mantria in Colorado, shut down the company, and obtained an injunction to prevent them from raising any new funds.  A receiver was appointed by the court to liquidate what few assets Mantria owned.

In order to lure prospective investors, it is alleged that Wragg, Knorr and McKelvy lied and omitted material facts to mislead investors as to the true financial status of Mantria, including grossly overstating the financial success of Mantria and promising excessive returns.

“The scheme alleged in this indictment offered investors the best of both worlds – investing in sustainable and clean energy products while also making a profit,” said U.S. Attorney Memeger.  “Unfortunately for the investors, it was all a hoax and they lost precious savings.  These defendants preyed on the emotions of their victims and sold them a scam.  This office will continue to make every effort to deter criminals from engaging in these incredibly damaging financial crimes.”

“As alleged, these defendants lied about their intentions regarding investors’ money, pocketing a substantial portion for personal use,” said Special Agent in Charge Sweeney Jr.  “So long as there are people with money to invest, there will likely be investment swindlers eager to take their money under false pretenses.  The FBI will continue to work with its law enforcement and private sector partners to investigate those whose greed-based schemes rob individuals of their hard-earned money.”

If convicted of all charges, the defendants each face possible prison terms, fines, up to five years of supervised release and a $1,000 special assessment.

The criminal case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Livermore.  The SEC in Colorado investigated and litigated the civil securities fraud charges which formed the basis of the criminal prosecution.

An indictment is an accusation.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Florida Businessman Sentenced to 17 Years in Prison for Conspiring to Defraud Investors

Dozens of Investors Lost More Than $13 Million in Scheme

A Florida businessman was sentenced today to 17 years in prison for his role in an investment fraud scheme resulting in over $13 million in losses to dozens of investors.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Vincent H. Cohen Jr. of the District of Columbia and Special Agent in Charge Kimberly A. Lappin of the IRS-Criminal Investigation’s Tampa Field Office made the announcement.

Donovan G. Davis Jr., 34, of Palm Bay, Florida, was found guilty by a jury on May 14, 2015, of one count of conspiracy to commit mail/wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, six counts of wire fraud and eight counts of money laundering.  He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Carlos E. Mendoza of the Middle District of Florida, who ordered him to pay $10,520,005 in restitution jointly and severally with his co-defendants.

“Donovan Davis Jr. and his co-conspirators lied to persuade victims to invest their retirement savings and children’s college funds, and then concealed the investment fund’s extreme losses so that the victims would stay invested,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “The investors lost everything, while Davis and others running the scam looted the fund to pay their own six-figure salaries, purchase luxury cars and travel in private planes.  This sentence will help hold Davis accountable for his crimes, but the investors he deceived will suffer for decades because of his greed and deceit.”

“Dozens of investors and their families lost millions of dollars because they put their trust in an investment firm that lied about its performance,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Cohen.  “The deception of Donovan Davis Jr. and the others involved in this scheme caused great personal and financial harm to people, including many who lost their retirement savings.  Today’s sentence reflects the seriousness of the defendant’s greedy, deceptive conduct and underscores our commitment to prosecuting those who commit financial crimes.  I commend the prosecutors from here in D.C. who held these criminals accountable for their deception in a Florida courthouse.”

“Today’s sentencing demonstrates how federal law enforcement will band together to help put an end to the criminal behavior of those who prey on investors to unjustly enrich themselves,” said Special Agent in Charge Lappin.  “IRS Criminal investigation and our law enforcement partners will relentlessly pursue those who mastermind and perpetrate investment fraud schemes.”

According to evidence presented at trial, Davis was the managing member of Capital Blu Management LLC, a Florida-based corporation that purported to offer investment and managed account services for investors in the off-exchange foreign currency, or “forex,” marketplace.  In 2007 and 2008, Davis solicited relatives, friends and associates to invest in Capital Blu.

In or about September 2007, according to evidence presented at trial, Davis and his co-conspirators formed the CBM FX Fund LP, which pooled investors’ money into a common fund to be traded by Capital Blu Management.  Many of Capital Blu’s managed-account investors transferred their investments into the CBM FX Fund.

According to the evidence presented at trial, CBM FX Fund had sustained significant trading losses, resulting in large losses for its investors.  Nevertheless, the evidence demonstrated that Davis and his co-conspirators made a series of misrepresentations to the investors about Capital Blu’s trading performance, the value of the fund and the risks of the fund.

For example, according to the evidence presented at trial, the Davis and his co-conspirators informed CBM FX Fund’s investors of positive monthly returns from January through August of 2008, even though the fund and its investors had sustained net losses of millions of dollars.  In addition, they diverted investors’ money from the fund to pay for Capital Blu’s operational expenses and personal expenses, including their own six-figure salaries and payments for the use of private airplanes and luxury cars.

In or about September 2008, the National Futures Association, an independent self-regulatory organization that oversees commodities and futures trading in the United States, conducted a surprise audit of Capital Blu and suspended its operations.  As of September 2008, investors had invested over $16.9 million into the CBM FX Fund and lost over $13 million.

Co-defendant  Blayne S. Davis (no relation to Donovan Davis Jr.), 34, formerly of Naples, Florida, pleaded guilty in July 2014 to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and was sentenced to nine years in prison and ordered to pay $13,215,874 in restitution.  Co-defendant Damien L. Bromfield, 39, of Ocoee, Florida, pleaded guilty in November 2013 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and is awaiting sentencing.

The case was investigated by a task force consisting of agents from the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation; U.S. Secret Service; Florida Department of Law Enforcement; and Brevard County, Florida, Sherriff’s Office.  Attorneys, agents and accountants from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), National Futures Association, Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also provided assistance to the investigation.  A related civil litigation was pursued by the CFTC, which resulted in a civil judgment against the defendants after a trial in 2011.

The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys David M. Fuhr and Ephraim Wernick of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan P. Hooks of the District of Columbia.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Catherine K. Connelly and Anthony Saler of the District of Columbia provided invaluable assistance on asset forfeiture matters.

U.S. Investigations Services Agrees to Forego at Least $30 Million to Settle False Claims Act Allegations

Contractor Allegedly Failed to Perform Required Quality Control Reviews on Contracts for Background Investigations with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management

The Justice Department announced today that U.S. Investigations Services Inc. (USIS) and its parent company, Altegrity, have agreed to settle allegations that USIS violated the False Claims Act (FCA) for conduct involving a contract for background investigations that USIS held with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  The companies have agreed to forgo their right to collect payments that they claim were owed by OPM, valued at least at $30 million, in exchange for a release of liability under the FCA.  USIS and Altegrity are headquartered in Northern Virginia.

From its privatization in 1996 until September 2014, USIS provided background investigations services for OPM under various fieldwork contracts.  The government alleged that beginning in at least March 2008 and continuing through at least September 2012, USIS deliberately circumvented contractually required quality reviews of completed background investigations in order to increase the company’s revenues and profits.  Specifically, USIS allegedly devised a practice referred to internally as “dumping” or “flushing,” which involved releasing cases to OPM and representing them as complete when, in fact, not all the reports of investigations comprising those cases had received a contractually-required quality review.  The government contended that, relying upon USIS’ false representations, OPM issued payments and contract incentives to USIS that it would not otherwise have issued had OPM been aware that the background investigations had not gone through the quality review process required by the contracts.

“Shortcuts taken by any company that we have entrusted to conduct background investigations of future and current federal employees are unacceptable,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “The Justice Department will ensure that those who do business with the government provide all of the services for which we bargained.”

“Contractors who do business for the federal government have a responsibility to provide the goods and services that they promise,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Vincent H. Cohen Jr. of the District of Columbia.  “This particular company failed to meet its obligations of comprehensively reviewing the backgrounds of current and prospective federal employees.  This settlement demonstrates our commitment to holding government contractors accountable.”

“This case demonstrates my office’s dedication to protecting tax payers’ money,” said U.S. Attorney George L. Beck Jr. of the Middle District of Alabama.  “We will continue to vigorously pursue all fraud against the government in order to restore and safeguard funds paid by our citizens.”

In February 2015, Altegrity, USIS and their affiliates filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in Delaware.  The settlement of USIS’ FCA liability is part of a broader settlement that also resolves other matters between the United States and USIS/Altegrity that were part of the bankruptcy proceeding.

The FCA lawsuit against USIS was originally filed under the whistleblower provisions of the act by Blake Percival, a former executive at USIS.  The FCA prohibits the submission of false claims for government money or property and, under the act’s whistleblower provisions, a private party may file suit on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery.  The United States may elect to intervene and take over the case, as it did here.  Mr. Percival’s share of the settlement has not yet been determined.

The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Columbia, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Middle District of Alabama, OPM and OPM’s Office of Inspector General.

The claims resolved by the settlement agreement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.  The case is United States of America, ex rel., Blake Percival, v. U.S. Investigations Services, LLC, No. 14-cv-00726-RMC (D.D.C.).


A U.S. citizen charged in connection with the operation of a series of fraudulent business opportunities based in Costa Rica was sentenced to prison today in Miami, the Justice Department announced.

John White, aka Gregory Garrett, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Patricia A. Seitz of the Southern District of Florida to serve 70 months in prison and five years of supervised release.  White was also ordered to pay $6,412,006.19 in restitution.  White is one of 12 defendants charged in connection with a series of business opportunity fraud ventures that operated in Costa Rica.  Nine of those other defendants have been convicted in the United States with sentences ranging from three to 16 years in prison and the two remaining defendants are not yet in the custody of the United States.

“The defendants in this scheme promised victims the American dream while knowing they in fact were being ripped off,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “We will continue to prosecute those who would deprive Americans of their savings just so they can make a quick buck.”

White was indicted by a federal grand jury in Miami on Nov. 29, 2011, arrested in Costa Rica in 2012, extradited to the United States in 2015 and pleaded guilty on April 29, 2015, to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in connection with the business opportunity scheme.

As part of his guilty plea, White admitted that from 2005 to 2008, he and his co-conspirators fraudulently induced individuals in the United States to buy business opportunities in USA Beverages Inc., Twin Peaks Gourmet Coffee Inc., Cards-R-Us Inc., Premier Cards Inc. and The Coffee Man Inc.  White and his co-conspirators claimed that these opportunities would allow purchasers to sell coffee or greeting cards from display racks located at other retail establishments.  The business opportunities cost thousands of dollars each, with most purchasers paying at least $10,000.  Each company operated for several months and after one company closed, the next opened.

White admitted that the conspiracy used various means to make it appear to potential purchasers that the businesses were located entirely in the United States.  The companies used bank accounts, office space and other services in the Southern District of Florida and elsewhere.  In reality, White and his co-conspirators operated out of call centers in Costa Rica.

White admitted that he and his co-conspirators made numerous false statements to potential purchasers of the business opportunities, including that purchasers likely would earn substantial profits; that prior purchasers of the business opportunities were earning substantial profits; that purchasers would sell a guaranteed minimum amount of merchandise, such as greeting cards and beverages; and that the business opportunity worked with locators familiar with the potential purchaser’s area who would secure or had already secured high-traffic locations for the potential purchaser’s merchandise stands.  Potential purchasers also were falsely told that the profits of the companies were based in part on the profits of the business opportunity purchasers, thus creating the false impression that the companies had a stake in the purchasers’ success and in finding good locations.

As alleged in the indictment against White and others, the companies employed various types of sales representatives, including fronters, closers and references.  A fronter spoke to potential purchasers when the prospective purchasers initially contacted the company in response to an advertisement.  A closer subsequently spoke to potential purchasers to close deals and references spoke to potential purchasers about the financial success they had purportedly experienced since purchasing one of the business opportunities.  The companies also employed locators, who were typically characterized by the sales representatives as third parties who worked with the companies to find high-traffic locations for the prospective purchaser’s merchandise display racks.  White admitted that he worked as a fronter and reference using aliases.

“This international and domestic investigation shows the Postal Inspection Service’s resolve to protect Americans from business opportunity scams,” said Postal Inspector in Charge Ronald Verrochio of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Miami Division.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mizer commended the investigative efforts of USPIS.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Alan Phelps of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch.

Remarks at a Press Conference Announcing Major Enforcement Charges Involving a Massive Hacking Trading Scheme

Chair Mary Jo White

Newark, New Jersey

Aug. 11, 2015

Good morning. Thank you, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, for inviting me to be here today. I congratulate all of the law enforcement agencies represented for their extraordinary efforts on this groundbreaking case to safeguard the integrity of our markets.

I will just briefly comment on the securities law violations alleged in the SEC’s complaint, which shows how cutting-edge and important this case is. It also illustrates the risks posed for our global markets by today’s sophisticated hackers.

While the SEC has uncovered and successfully litigated hacking and trading schemes in the past, today’s international case is unprecedented in terms of the scope of the hacking at issue; the number of traders involved; the number of securities unlawfully traded; and the amount of profits generated. Over the course of 5 years, the 32 defendants named in this complaint are charged with carrying out a brazen scheme to steal non-public earnings information for hundreds of publicly traded companies, and then placing thousands of trades through a network of U.S. and overseas traders located in the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Malta, Cyprus, France, New York, Pennsylvania and Georgia—geographies electronically connected by this illicit network.

According to the complaint, these traders located across the globe executed thousands of illicit trades on the basis of this material, nonpublic information, concealing their scheme by spreading the transactions across multiple accounts held in the names of many individuals and entities. And, the traders were market savvy, using equities, options and contracts-for-differences to maximize their profits.

Two Ukrainian hackers are charged with spearheading the scheme, Ivan Turchynov and Okelsandr Ieremenko. Along with the 30 other defendants, they are collectively alleged to have made more than $100 million in illegal profits by trading based on pre-release corporate earnings announcements stolen from multiple newswire services. We charged these defendants in a complaint unsealed today with multiple securities fraud violations, seeking disgorgement and penalties, and we obtained an asset freeze against the overseas traders, which secured at least $20 million of the defendants’ ill-gotten gains. And the SEC’s investigation continues.

The complaint charges that Turchynov and Ieremenko used malicious programming code and other deceptive techniques to hack into the computer systems of multiple newswire services that stored unpublished corporate earnings announcements. These announcements were slated for public release at a prescheduled date and time, and the hackers took advantage of the time gap. According to the complaint, the two primary hackers brazenly recruited traders with a video showcasing the hackers’ ability to steal and transmit earnings information before its public release.

This case highlights a number of important points. It demonstrates the enhanced trading surveillance and analysis capabilities that the SEC has developed over the last few years. It also highlights our use of market experts with specialized skills and experience. We now have new technological tools and investigative approaches that allow us not only to pinpoint suspicious trading across multiple securities but also to identify relationships among traders. The SEC’s Enforcement Division sorted through literally millions of trades, thousands of earnings announcements and gigabytes of data on IP addresses in order to identify these defendants who went to great lengths to evade detection, often identifying these traders based on their patterns of trading. With these enhanced capabilities, we are now more capable than ever of rooting out even the most sophisticated of trading schemes. Maintaining the integrity of our high-tech markets requires that kind of regulatory expertise and vigilance to match the sophisticated trading and market manipulation we see in the markets.

Today’s case also serves as a stark reminder to companies that your computer systems are vulnerable targets. Be vigilant in protecting your systems, taking measures to detect and guard against hacking, and working together with law enforcement to uncover the theft and misuse of stolen information.

Today’s case also highlights the SEC’s continued partnership with the criminal authorities in investigating securities law violations, including misconduct that crosses international borders. Each of us brings to bear the unique tools, expertise and remedies that we have and together we are able to bring innovative cases like this one which serve as a stronger deterrent to unlawful conduct.

The work of everyone involved in this investigation, from every agency, has been extraordinary. For the SEC, I want to recognize our Market Abuse Unit, the Complex Financial Instruments Unit, the Home Office staff in D.C., as well as the Denver and Philadelphia regional office staffs, together with the Division of Economic and Risk Analysis and Office of International Affairs, who all worked tirelessly on this matter. The SEC staff’s expertise and unwavering dedication are essential to the protection of our markets and investors. I will end by recognizing and thanking all of our law enforcement partners, as always, for their outstanding work and cooperation in this investigation.

Leader of Coupon Counterfeiting Ring on Silk Road Websites Pleads Guilty

A leader of a coupon counterfeiting ring pleaded guilty today to participating in a conspiracy to sell counterfeit coupons using the “Silk Road” online marketplace, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Beau Wattigney, 30, New Orleans, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle of the Eastern District of Louisiana to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit trademark counterfeiting.  Sentencing has been scheduled for Oct. 28, 2015.

In connection with his plea, Wattigney admitted that, between May 2012 and November 2014, he used the online monikers “PurpleLotus” and “GoldenLotus” to sell counterfeit coupons for various goods and services on Silk Road 1.0, which was a hidden website through which users around the world bought and sold illegal drugs, goods and services.  Wattigney further admitted that he engaged in the same conduct on Silk Road 2.0, a successor to Silk Road 1.0, using the monikers “PurpleLotus” and “CouponKing.”

The coupons allowed purchasers to obtain significant discounts on a variety of goods and services offered by the victim companies, including Hopster, Veri-fi, SmartSource, RedPlum and Visa.  For example, Wattigney sold a counterfeit coupon that allowed users to purchase $50.00 Visa Gift Cards for $0.01 each.

Wattigney admitted that he created and manufactured the fraudulent coupons with the assistance of several co-conspirators, and that they designed the coupons to look like original print-at-home manufacturers’ coupons by using the companies’ trademarks.  He also admitted that the scheme affected more than 50 U.S.-based businesses, and caused or attempted to cause more than one million dollars in intended losses.

The investigation is being conducted by the FBI Philadelphia Division, with assistance from the FBI New Orleans Field Office.  The case is being prosecuted by Senior Counsel Marie-Flore Johnson, Gavin Corn and Robert Wallace of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Ginsberg of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Thirteen U.S. Soldiers Sentenced for Roles in Fraudulent Military Recruiting Bonus Scheme

Thirteen members of the Texas Guard have received their sentences for their roles in wide-ranging bribery and fraud schemes that caused more than $170,000 in losses to the United States.  Seven of those members were sentenced this past week in Houston.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas made the announcement.

  • Jammie Martin, 38, of Katy, Texas, and Michelle Davis, 34, of Houston, were convicted in February of this year after a five-day trial of conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.  Martin was sentenced to serve 102 months in prison and Davis was sentenced to serve 57 months in prison.
  • Vanessa Phillips, 37, of Houston, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of bribery and was sentenced to three years probation.
  • Zaunmine “Orlando” Duncan, 39, of Douglasville, Georgia, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery and one count of aggravated identity theft.  He was sentenced to serve 70 months in prison.
  • Annika Chambers, 29, of Houston, and Lashae Hawkins, 29, of San Antonio, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of bribery.  Chambers was sentenced to serve six months in prison.  Hawkins received one year and one day in prison.
  • Christopher Renfro, 27, of Houston, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery, one count of aggravated identity theft and two counts of wire fraud.  He was sentenced to serve 36 months in prison.

In June, six other members of the Texas Guard were sentenced for their roles in the scheme.

  • Michael Rambaran, 52, of Pearland, Texas, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery and one count of aggravated identity theft.  He was sentenced to serve 60 months in prison.
  • Edia Antoine, 29, and Ernest A. Millien III, 51, both of Houston, and Melanie Moraida, 35, of Pearland, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of bribery.  Each received 12 months and one day in prison.

Elisha Ceja, 28, of Barboursville, West Virginia, and Kimberly Hartgraves, 30, of League City, Texas, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of bribery.  Ceja was sentenced to serve nine months in prison and Hartgraves received probation.

U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal in the Southern District of Texas imposed the prison terms and also ordered all 13 defendants to pay restitution.  One remaining defendant, Danielle Applin 29, of Harker Heights, Texas, who previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of bribery, is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 2, 2015, in Houston.

In approximately September 2005, the National Guard Bureau entered into a contract with Document and Packaging Broker Inc. to administer the Guard Recruiting Assistance Program (G-RAP).  Through this program, a participating soldier, known as a recruiting assistant, could receive bonus payments for referring another individual to join the National Guard.  Based on certain milestones achieved by the referred soldier, a participating soldier would receive payment through direct deposit into the participating soldier’s designated bank account.  To participate in the program, recruiting assistants were required to create online accounts.

According to the evidence presented at trial and in connection with various guilty pleas, Phillips and Davis, both of whom participated in the G-RAP as recruiting assistants, conspired with Martin, a recruiter, to defraud the program by falsely claiming that they were responsible for referring potential soldiers to join the National Guard.  The trial evidence showed that Martin used his position to obtain the names and Social Security numbers of potential soldiers which he provided to recruiting assistants so that they could use the information to obtain fraudulent recruiting referral bonuses.  The evidence at trial showed that, in exchange for the information, Martin, who organized and led the scheme, personally received approximately $15,000 in payments from the recruiting assistants.  This scheme resulted in more than $30,000 in losses to the National Guard Bureau.

In a separate scheme that resulted in an additional $70,000 in losses, recruiting assistants Antoine, Millien, Moraida and Renfro admitted to paying Rambaran, a recruiter who organized and led the scheme, for the personal information of potential soldiers.  They then used that information to obtain fraudulent bonuses by falsely claiming they referred those individuals to join the National Guard.  Rambaran admitted that, in exchange for the recruit information, he personally received a total of approximately $29,000 in payments from the recruiting assistants.

In connection with his guilty plea in a scheme he organized and led, Duncan, a recruiter, admitted he personally received approximately $24,000 in payments from recruiting assistants in exchange for personal information of potential soldiers.  Those recruiting assistants – Ceja, Chambers, Hartgraves and Hawkins – admitted to paying Duncan for the information and using it to obtain fraudulent bonuses by falsely claiming they referred those individuals to join the National Guard.  This scheme resulted in another $70,000 in losses to the National Guard Bureau.

The cases were investigated by the San Antonio Fraud Resident Agency of Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit.  These cases are being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Sean F. Mulryne, Heidi Boutros Gesch and Mark J. Cipolletti of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pearson of the Southern District of Texas.

Two New York Salesmen Sentenced to Prison in Business Opportunity Fraud Scheme

Scheme Defrauded More than 330 Victims Across the Country

A federal judge in the Eastern District of New York sentenced two sales representatives to prison today for their roles in a vending machine business opportunity fraud scheme, the Department of Justice announced today.

Howard S. Strauss, 66, of Jericho, New York, was sentenced to serve 28 months in prison by U.S. District Court Judge Joan M. Azrack, who also ordered him to pay $2,291,844 in restitution to 230 victims.  Mark Benowitz, 68, of Midlothian, Virginia, was sentenced to serve 24 months in prison and ordered to pay $997,210 in restitution to 103 victims.

Both Strauss and Benowitz pleaded guilty last year to fraud charges in connection with Multivend LLC, doing business as Vendstar, a company based in Deer Park, New York, that sold vending machine business opportunities to consumers throughout the United States until 2010.  Strauss and Benowitz were Vendstar sales representatives who misrepresented the business opportunity’s likely profits, the amount of money that Vendstar’s prior customers were earning, how quickly customers were likely to recover their investment, the quality of locations that were available for the vending machines, and the level of location assistance that customers would receive from locating companies recommended by Vendstar.  Both Strauss and Benowitz also falsely told potential customers that they operated profitable candy vending machine routes themselves.

“These defendants promised the American dream, but knew that what they in fact were offering was a worthless business opportunity,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “The Department of Justice will continue to prosecute those who seek to scam out of everyday Americans the hard-earned money in their retirement accounts and life savings.”

Twenty-two individuals have been charged with fraud in connection with Vendstar, including Vendstar managers and sales representatives, and the operators of locating companies recommended by Vendstar.  Three of those defendants have now been sentenced; 13 defendants are awaiting sentencing; and six defendants are scheduled to stand trial in September.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mizer commended the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for its thorough investigation.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Patrick Jasperse and Alan Phelps of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch.