Oregon JV LLC v. Advanced Investment et al. was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon on March 2, 2022. Plaintiff asserts claims sounding in fraud and requests compensatory and equitable relief against a construction lender and other individuals and entities that funded various loans to a homebuilder with a history of fraud and embezzlement.

Plaintiff is a company that managed a construction loan pool for non-party Joseph Russi.  Defendant Advanced Investment Corp (“AIC”) is an Oregon-based corporation that previously managed the loan pool at issue. The remaining Defendants consist of trustees of various trusts, Oregon-based financial institutions, and several Oregon residents, all of which were investors in the subject loan pool (the “Defendant Lenders”).

Continue Reading New Complaint – Oregon JV LLC v. Advanced Investment et al.

Tu Le et al. v. Prestige Community Credit Union, filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California on February 18, 2022, is the second putative class action filed in connection with a church-based investment scheme propped up by Ponzi-type payments, this time targeting the bank that housed the schemers’ accounts.

Plaintiffs Tu Le, Geneva Nguyen, and Mai T. Ly are individuals who invested in a scheme run by entities related to a now-defunct church and its pastor, convicted felon Kent R.E. Whitney (the “Whitney Schemers”).  The scheme targeted individuals by misrepresenting that their funds would be used to open investment accounts earning over 10% interest, but very little of investor funds actually went into trading accounts. Defendant Prestige Community Credit Union (“Prestige”) is the credit union purportedly used by the Whitney Schemers.  Plaintiffs seek to represent a class of all individuals who invested and lost money with any of the Whitney Schemers, as well as a sub-class of all such class members who were residents of California and over 65 years old at the time of investment.

Continue Reading New Complaint – Tu Le et al. v. Prestige Community Credit Union

yLoft, LLC v. Bechtler, Parker & Watts, P.S.C. was filed in the Circuit Court for Jefferson County, Kentucky on January 18, 2022, asserting claims for negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent misrepresentation, violation of state securities laws, and unjust enrichment against an accounting firm alleged to have facilitated the sale of unregistered securities.

Plaintiffs are individuals and institutional investors that invested in promissory notes sold by non-parties ACS Payment Solutions, LTD Co. d/b/a ACS Payment Solutions, LLC and ACS Payment Solutions II Incorporated (collectively, “ACS”).  Defendant Bechtler, Parker & Watts, P.S.C. (“BPW”) is an accounting firm owned by Defendant Christopher J. Bechtler (“Bechtler”) that performed accounting services for ACS and Plaintiffs.  Defendants are alleged to have engaged in a scheme with ACS to solicit and defraud outside investors, including Plaintiffs.

Continue Reading New Complaint – yLoft LLC v. Bechtler, Parker, Watts, P.S.C.

Backed by unrealistically ambitious owners, well-intentioned business ideas that fail to meet expectations or become unsustainable regrettably often become full-fledged Ponzi schemes.  Today’s Growth Consultant, Inc. (“TGC”) represents an entity that faced the same fate.

TGC advertised to potential investors its expertise in building, acquiring, and monetizing online websites.  Investors paid an upfront fee to TGC to purchase, host, maintain, and market the investors’ websites in exchange for TGC’s guarantee that investors would receive a minimum rate of return in perpetuity on the revenues TGC generated from those websites.  TGC raised at least $75 million during a nearly three year period, but its business model proved unsuccessful—it failed to timely purchase and build the promised websites or generate the promised revenue to cover the guaranteed returns to investors.  Instead, TGC turned into a Ponzi scheme to sustain its failing business by paying early investors with money it raised from later investors.

TGC maintained its business bank accounts at Defendants Heartland Bank and Trust Company (“Heartland”) and PNC Bank, N.A. (“PNC”) (collectively, “Defendants”).  TGC banked with Heartland until October 2018, and with PNC thereafter until December 2019.  Defendants provided TGC with typical banking services, including deposit accounts, commercial loans and revolving lines of credit, ACH capabilities, and transfers into, out of, and among TGC’s accounts.

In a recent decision in PLB Investments LLC et al. v. Heartland Bank and Trust Co. et al., the Northern District of Illinois decided that various defrauded investors of TGC (“Plaintiffs”) did not set forth sufficient allegations to show actual knowledge of a Ponzi scheme or bad faith in support of various Illinois state law claims against PNC.  No. 20 C 1023, 2021 WL 5937152 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 15, 2021).  While different jurisdictions set varying thresholds for adequately alleging actual knowledge or bad faith, PLB Investments emphasizes the importance of analyzing these elements early on to determine whether a plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts on the pleadings.

Continue Reading Illinois Federal Court Carves Up Plaintiffs’ Ponzi Scheme Claims For Lack of Actual Knowledge or Bad Faith

Securities and Exchange Commission v. Woods, Livingston Group Asset Management Company d/b/a Southport Capital, and Horizon Private Equity, III, LLC was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on August 20, 2021. The SEC alleges that Defendants defrauded investors, many of whom were elderly, with illusory promises of guaranteed returns for their investment in the Defendants’ affiliated fund.

Continue Reading New Complaint – SEC v. Woods, et al.

Mills v. Trustmark National Bank, et al. was filed in the Southern District of Mississippi on August 19, 2021 by a receiver appointed on behalf of companies engaged in a scheme to defraud investors by producing false deeds for the purchase and sale of timber.

Plaintiff Alysson Mills (“Plaintiff”) is the Receiver for Arthur Adams (“Adams”) and his company turned Ponzi scheme Madison Timber Properties, LLC (“Madison Timber”).  The defendants are Trustmark Corporation d/b/a Trustmark National Bank (“Trustmark”), Southern Bancorp Bank (“Southern”), Riverhills Bank (“Riverhills”), Bennie Butts (“Butts”), and Jud Watkins (“Watkins”) (collectively, “Defendants”).  Butts and Watkins were employees of Trustmark and Riverhills during the alleged Ponzi scheme.

Continue Reading New Complaint – Mills v. Trustmark National Bank, et al.

Chang, et. al. v. Interactive Brokers LLC (“IB”) was filed in the Northern District of California on August 2, 2021. The complaint seeks civil damages for claims of aiding and abetting fraud, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, and violation of California Business and Professions Code.

Continue Reading New Complaint – Chang, et. al. v. Interactive Brokers LLC

The collapse of a Ponzi scheme usually follows a familiar pattern.  When the scheme is exposed, the company created by the schemer—which is usually little more than a sham entity—is placed into receivership or declares bankruptcy (or both).  A receiver or bankruptcy trustee is then tasked with recovering any funds belonging to the estate so that they may be distributed to creditors.  As part of this process, these court-appointed parties step into the shoes of the company and may bring any litigation that the company itself could have brought.  Bankruptcy trustees are also granted the exclusive right to bring “general claims” on behalf of the entities’ creditors.

This process creates a thorny question: who may seek recovery from a third party alleged to have been involved in the fraud?  Creditors that lent funds to sham companies often pursue claims against financial institutions that banked the schemers on aiding-and-abetting theories.  Yet receivers and trustees also often bring these claims, leading to duplicative litigation and the question of who properly “owns” the claim.

A recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota provides important guidance on this question.  Ritchie v. JPMorgan Chase & Co., No. 14-cv-04786, 2021 WL 2686079 (D. Minn. June 30, 2021) untangles who has standing to bring claims against a third party alleged to have aided and abetted a Ponzi scheme.  As the Court explains, “general” claims for loss of funds belong exclusively to court-appointed bankruptcy trustees.  Third parties may only bring particularized claims that arise from injuries “directly traceable” to the defendant’s conduct.  Ritchie thus serves as a touchstone in disputes over standing in Ponzi litigation.

Continue Reading Minnesota Court Untangles Who Owns What Claim in the Fallout of a Ponzi Scheme

Abidog v. New York Life Insurance Co. was filed in the Superior Court of the State of California on June 18, 2021, seeking damages and rescission of unregistered promissory notes sold in a Ponzi scheme that deprived elderly and other unwitting investors of their life savings.  The fifteen-count complaint alleges violations of California statutory and common law, as well as federal securities law.

Defendant Felix Chu is a former agent of Defendants New York Life Insurance Company and NYLIFE Securities LLC (collectively, “New York Life”) who used his role at New York Life to perpetrate the Ponzi scheme.  Plaintiffs are investors in the scheme.

Continue Reading New Complaint – Abidog v. New York Life Insurance Co.