Arrested con men fooled investors twice

2013-08-13 23:04


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New York - A crew of con men sold worthless penny stocks to people around the globe at pumped-up prices, then victimised the investors again by setting up a fake law firm that charged them to try to get their money back, federal authorities in New York said on Tuesday.

The international scheme generated more than $140m, making it one of the largest penny stock fraud schemes in history, US Attorney Loretta Lynch said at a news conference announcing an indictment charging nine defendants.

FBI agents arrested six of the defendants on Tuesday in New York, Arizona, New Jersey, Florida and California. A seventh was being held in Canada and two were at large.

The indictment alleges that the defendants engaged in a massive "pump and dump" scheme - buying controlling interests in sketchy startup companies, then artificially inflating their value by promoting them in fictitious emails, social media messages and news releases.

The fraudulent sales campaign generated more than $120m in investments by tens of thousands of people in the United States and 34 other countries, including Jamaica, South Africa, Ireland and China, authorities said.

Working out of boiler room phone centres in Canada, Thailand and Britain, the defendants again victimised the same investors by convincing them to pay $20m in advance fees in return for helping them sell their securities or join lawsuits to reclaim their losses, court papers said.

In some instances, the defendants pretended to be Internal Revenue Service employees who told victims they would have to pay a 30% tax before they could unload their penny stocks.

The defendants "picked [the investors'] pockets yet again as they promised to help them find a way out of their financial straits", Lynch said.

The victims were told to wire the advance fees to banks in New York City and elsewhere. The funds eventually made their way to an account in Lebanon, the papers said.

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