SEC Charges Real Estate Executives in Florida-Based $300 Million Investment Scheme

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently charged five former real estate executives who 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.

The SEC alleges that 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 percent return and a future income stream through a rental program that Cay Clubs managed. But 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. Meanwhile they 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. Many investors’ properties went into foreclosure.

The SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida charges the following former Cay Clubs executives:

  • Fred Davis Clark, Jr. – president and CEO
  • David W. Schwarz – chief accounting officer
  • Cristal R. Coleman – manager and sales agent
  • Barry J. Graham – sales director
  • Ricky Lynn Stokes – sales director

According to the SEC’s complaint, the scheme began in 2004. Clark, Coleman, Graham, and Stokes solicited 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 representations about investors’ profitability and instant equity were false because the purported triple-digit returns resulted from undisclosed insider transactions with Cay Clubs by Coleman, Graham, and Stokes. Their actions made it appear that Cay Clubs units had enormous rates of appreciation over a short period of time when in fact the transactions were merely part of an insider flipping scheme. Further, Stokes wrote letters directly to potential investors claiming that the leaseback payments and profits were “guaranteed” and that Cay Clubs was a “very stable financially healthy company worth BILLIONS.”

The SEC alleges 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. 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.

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.

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