SEC Charges Two Feeders for One of South Florida’s Largest-Ever Ponzi Schemes
The Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday charged two individuals who provided the biggest influx of investor funds into one of the largest-ever Ponzi schemes in South Florida.
The SEC alleges that George Levin and Frank Preve, who live in the Fort Lauderdale area, raised more than $157 million from 173 investors in less than two years by issuing promissory notes from Levin’s company and interests in a private investment fund they operated. They used investor funds to purchase discounted legal settlements from former Florida attorney Scott Rothstein through his prominent law firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt and Adler PA. However, the settlements Rothstein sold were not real and the supposed plaintiffs and defendants did not exist. Rothstein simply used the funds in classic Ponzi scheme fashion to make payments due other investors and support his lavish lifestyle. Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme collapsed in October 2009, and he is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence.
The SEC alleges that Levin and Preve misrepresented to investors that they had procedural safeguards in place to protect investor money when in fact they often purchased settlements without first seeing any legal documents or doing anything to verify that the settlement proceeds were actually in Rothstein’s bank accounts. Moreover, as the Ponzi scheme was collapsing and Rothstein stopped making payments on prior investments, Levin and Preve sought new investor money while falsely touting the continued success of their investment strategy. With their fate tied to Rothstein, Levin and Preve’s settlement purchasing business collapsed along with the Ponzi scheme.
“Levin and Preve fueled Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme with the false sense of security they gave investors,” said Eric I. Bustillo, Director of the SEC’s Miami Regional Office. “They promised to safeguard investors’ assets, but gave Rothstein money with nothing to show for it.”
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Miami, Levin and Preve began raising money to purchase Rothstein settlements in 2007 by offering investors short-term promissory notes issued by Levin’s company – Banyon 1030-32 LLC. In 2009, seeking additional funds from investors, they formed a private investment fund called Banyon Income Fund LP that invested exclusively in Rothstein’s settlements. Banyon 1030-32 served as the general partner of the fund, and its profit was generated from the amount by which the settlement discounts obtained from Rothstein exceeded the rate of return promised to investors.
The SEC alleges that the offering materials for the promissory notes and the private fund contained material misrepresentations and omissions. They misrepresented to investors that prior to any settlement purchase, Banyon 1030-32 would obtain certain documentation about the settlements to ensure the safety of the investments. Levin and Preve, however, knew or were reckless in not knowing that Banyon 1030-32 often purchased settlements from Rothstein without obtaining any documentation whatsoever.
Furthermore, the SEC alleges that Banyon Income Fund’s private placement memorandum misrepresented that the fund would be a continuation of a successful business strategy pursued by Banyon 1030-32 during the prior two-and-a-half years. Levin and Preve failed to disclose that by the time the Banyon Income Fund offering began in May 2009, Rothstein had already ceased making payments on a majority of the prior settlements Levin and his entities had purchased. They also failed to inform investors that Levin’s ability to recover his prior investments from Rothstein was contingent on his ability to raise at least $100 million of additional funding to purchase more settlements from Rothstein.
The SEC’s complaint seeks disgorgement of ill gotten gains, financial penalties, and permanent injunctive relief against Levin and Preve to enjoin them from future violations of the federal securities laws.
The SEC’s investigation, which is continuing, has been conducted by senior counsels D. Corey Lawson and Steven J. Meiner and staff accountant Tonya T. Tullis under the supervision of Assistant Regional Director Chad Alan Earnst. Senior trial counsels James M. Carlson and C. Ian Anderson are leading the litigation.
The SEC acknowledges the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Internal Revenue Service.