Securities and Exchange Commission v. Ellis, Civil Action No. 0:12-cv-62211

SEC Charges South Florida Man with Recruiting Victims of Ponzi Scheme

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently charged a South Florida man with defrauding at least 14 investors by soliciting them to invest in a Ponzi scheme. A significant number of the victims were members of the gay community in Wilton Manors, Florida and included inexperienced, unaccredited investors.

In the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the SEC alleges that James F. Ellis, 69, a resident of Wilton Manors, Florida, fraudulently solicited investors for George Elia from 2004 to 2011. Elia operated pooled investment vehicles under the names Investor Funding Club and Vision Equities Funds. Elia purported to trade in stocks and earn annual returns as high as 26 percent, but was actually running a Ponzi scheme and paying returns to existing investors from new investor funds. In April 2012, the Commission charged Elia with securities fraud. See Litigation Release No. 22319 (April 6, 2012).

According to the Commission’s complaint against Ellis, Ellis persuaded prospective investors by falsely telling them that he had personally invested with Elia at least $5 million that he had inherited from his parents. Ellis variously told investors that he earned 16% to 20% annual returns on his investment with Elia or that he earned $20,000 to $24,000 per month. Elia and his entities did in fact pay Ellis over $2.1 million over seven years. However, those payments were not investment returns because, as Ellis knew, he had not made an investment with Elia that would have returned such large sums of money. According to the complaint, Ellis also reassured prospective investors of the safety of the investment by falsely telling them that he had tested Elia by depositing a large amount of money with Elia, then asking for and receiving it back.

According to the complaint, Ellis bolstered his deceptive claims about the success of his investment with Elia with ostentatious displays of wealth, including expensive real estate, luxury cars, jewelry, opulent entertaining of his friends, and expensive cruises. Though Ellis claimed that his investments with Elia made his luxurious lifestyle possible, he failed to disclose to investors that his wealth derived not from legitimate investment returns but from the money that Elia paid him for fraudulently touting Elia’s investment vehicles.

The Commission’s complaint charges Ellis with securities fraud in violation of Section 17(a)(1), (2) and (3) of the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”) and Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. The complaint also alleges that Ellis violated the registration provisions of Sections 5(a) and (c) of the Securities Act. The Commission is seeking permanent injunctions against Ellis for violating the above provisions of the securities laws, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus pre-judgment interest, and civil penalties.

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