Florida Real Estate Execs Charged in $300 Million Investment Scam: SEC
The SEC on Wednesday charged five former real estate executives who allegedly defrauded investors into believing they were funding the development of five-star destination resorts in Florida and Las Vegas when they were actually buying into a Ponzi scheme.
According to the SEC complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Cay Clubs Resorts and Marinas raised more than $300 million from nearly 1,400 investors nationwide through a network of hundreds of sales agents, marketing seminars and podcasts that touted the profitability of purchasing units at Cay Clubs resort locations.
Investors were promised immediate income from a guaranteed 15% return and a future income stream through a rental program that Cay Clubs managed, the SEC said.
Instead of using investor funds to develop resort properties and units, the Cay Clubs executives used new investor deposits to pay leaseback returns to earlier investors.
The SEC said the Cay Clubs executives paid themselves exorbitant salaries and commissions totaling more than $30 million, and investor funds also were misused to buy airplanes and boats.
While still advertising itself as a profitable venture, Cay Clubs eventually abandoned its operations and many investors’ properties went into foreclosure, according to the SEC complaint.
The SEC charged the following former Cay Clubs executives: Fred Davis Clark Jr., president/CEO, David W. Schwarz, chief accounting officer; Cristal R. Coleman, manager and sales agent; Barry J. Graham, sales director; and Ricky Lynn Stokes, sales director.
According to the SEC’s complaint, the scheme began in 2004 with Clark, Coleman, Graham, and Stokes soliciting investors with promises of guaranteed income, instant equity in undervalued properties, historic appreciation, and at least $30,000 in upgrades to the units they purchased at Cay Clubs resort locations in Florida and Las Vegas.
The SEC alleged that Cay Clubs continued to solicit new investors despite the fact that the company’s financial condition had deteriorated so significantly that it did not have sufficient funds to make the guaranteed leaseback or rental payments to investors.
Clark, Coleman and Schwarz misappropriated millions of dollars in investor funds using the multitude of bank accounts they controlled, the SEC said. Besides purchasing airplanes and boats, they misused investor money for unrelated business ventures including investments in precious metals and a liquor distillery that produced Pirate’s Choice Rum.
After Cay Clubs abandoned its operations in 2008, Clark and Coleman, who are now husband and wife, moved to the Cayman Islands and continued to dissipate assets and funnel at least $2 million to offshore accounts, according to the SEC.
The SEC’s complaint seeks financial penalties from Clark, Coleman and Stokes and the disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus prejudgment interest by all five executives. The complaint also seeks injunctive relief to enjoin them from future violations of the federal securities laws as well as an accounting and an order to repatriate investor assets.