SEC Charges Prominent Entrepreneur in Miami-Based Scheme

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently charged a prominent Miami-based entrepreneur with defrauding investors by grossly exaggerating the financial success of his company that purportedly produced housing materials to withstand fires and hurricanes. Claudio Osorio stole nearly half of the money raised from investors to pay the mortgage on his multi-million dollar mansion and other lavish highlife expenses.

The SEC alleges that Osorio, who is a former Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award winner, raised at least $16.8 million from investors by portraying InnoVida Holdings LLC as having millions of dollars more in cash and equity than it actually did. Osorio sometimes solicited investors one-on-one at political fundraising events. To add an air of legitimacy to his company, Osorio assembled a high-profile board of directors that included a former governor of Florida, a lobbyist, and a major real estate developer. Osorio falsely told a potential investor he had invested tens of millions of dollars of his own money as InnoVida’s largest stakeholder, and he hyped a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund investment as a ruse to solicit additional funds from investors.

The SEC also charged InnoVida’s chief financial officer Craig Toll, a certified public accountant living in Pembroke Pines, Fla., who helped Osorio create the false financial picture of InnoVida.

The SEC alleges that besides his Miami Beach mansion, Osorio illegally used investor money to pay for his Maserati, a Colorado mountain retreat home, and country club dues. He stole at least $8.1 million in investor funds.

In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida recently announced criminal charges against Osorio and Toll.

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the scheme began in 2007 and lasted until 2010. InnoVida was purportedly in the business of manufacturing building panels used to construct houses and other structures resistant to fires and hurricanes. The company entered bankruptcy in 2011.

To induce funds from investors, Osorio and Toll allegedly produced false pro forma financial statements. A pro forma financial statement for March 31, 2009, stated that InnoVida had more than $35 million in cash and cash equivalents and more than $100 million of equity. A pro forma financial statement for Dec. 31, 2009, listed more than $39 million in cash and cash equivalents and $122 million of equity. In reality, the company’s bank accounts held less than $185,000 on March 31, 2009, and less than $2 million on Dec. 31, 2009. Toll failed to review all of InnoVida’s bank account statements when he drafted financial statements. Instead, he accepted Osorio’s misrepresentations that InnoVida had these assets in an account to which Toll did not have access.

The SEC alleges that Osorio offered bogus share prices to prospective investors based on false valuations. He told one investor that InnoVida was valued at $250 million, and then a week later told a different investor that the company was worth $50 million. The latter investor purchased $100,000 of Osorio’s stake in the company for five cents per share.

The SEC further alleges that Osorio lied to an investor when he said that he had personally invested tens of millions of dollars into InnoVida. He had in fact made no such investment. Osorio also enticed an investor to increase an investment in InnoVida by touting a supposed $500 million deal he was negotiating with a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund that would significantly benefit InnoVida investors. Osorio went so far as to create a document showing the investor how much he would make once the sovereign wealth deal closed and was funded. Based on Osorio’s misrepresentations, the investor was able to raise approximately $700,000 and later borrowed $3 million from a close friend. However, no sovereign wealth buyout deal ever materialized, and InnoVida investors never benefited as promised.

The SEC’s complaint seeks disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, financial penalties, and injunctive relief against InnoVida, Osorio, and Toll to enjoin them from future violations of the federal securities laws. The complaint also seeks an order barring Osorio and Toll from serving as an officer or director of a public company.

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