LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced the filing of criminal charges against a Saginaw man for his alleged role in an extensive Ponzi scheme. Joel Wilson, 30, of Saginaw, allegedly defrauded at least three Michigan victims out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The charges come as the result of an Attorney General investigation.
“Every day, scam artists find new ways to pocket your money,” said Schuette. “Financial exploitation is a growing crime in Michigan, and we are cracking down on these con artists. Be skeptical of anyone who promises huge returns for a small investment.”
It is alleged that, beginning in 2009, Wilson scammed investors through his operation of The Diversified Group Advisory Fund LLC, an investment company. Wilson allegedly told investors that he would use their funds to purchase distressed properties in the Saginaw area and Bay City areas. The properties would later be refurbished and sold for profit, which would go to investors.
When funds Wilson collected from the sales of the unregistered securities failed to turn a profit, he allegedly used new investor funds to pay returns to previous investors – the trademark of a Ponzi scheme. In addition, Wilson allegedly pocketed approximately $47,000 of the investment funds to pay his personal expenses and acquire personal assets.
The following nine charges were filed against Wilson in Bay City District Court on January 8, 2012:
· One count of Continuing Criminal Enterprise (Racketeering), a felony punishable by up to twenty years in prison;
· Three counts of Sale of Unregistered Securities, a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison;
· One count of Larceny by Conversion ($20,000 or more), a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison;
· One count of Larceny by Conversion ($1,000-$20,000), a felony punishable by up to five years in prison; and,
· Three counts of Fraudulent Sale of Securities, a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison.
Arrangements are being made for Wilson to surrender to the proper authorities. Once he is in custody, an arraignment date will be set.
Citizens who believe they may have been victims of Joel Wilson or The Diversified Group are encouraged to file complaints with the Attorney General’s Office at www.michigan.gov/ag by clicking “File a Complaint.”
A criminal charge is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
Consumer Tips For Safe Investing
Schuette encourages Michigan citizens to exercise caution before investing their money with those who promise exorbitant returns.
“Do your homework before handing over your hard-earned money,” said Schuette. “Take your time, ask questions, and be sure to confirm your broker is in good standing with the State before signing on the dotted line.”
Key tips to avoid falling victim to a Ponzi scheme or investment fraud include:
- Check out your broker or adviser. Confirm that your broker and financial adviser is registered and in good standing. Contact the Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation, at 1-877-999-6442, to check out your broker or adviser.
- Beware of strangers touting strange deals. Trusting strangers is a mistake anyone can make when it comes to their personal finances. Almost anyone can sound nice or honest on the telephone. Say “no” to any investment professional who presses you to make an immediate decision, giving you no opportunity to check out the salesperson, firm and the investment opportunity itself. Beware of anyone who suggests investing your money into something you don’t understand or who urges that you leave everything in his or her hands.
- Take your time – don’t be rushed into investment decisions. Salespersons who use high-pressure tactics to force an investor into an immediate decision are almost always pitching frauds. They don’t want you to think too carefully or find out too much because you may figure out that it’s a scam.
- Keep tabs on your investments. Be wary when a financial planner says “leave everything to me,” or “the plan is too complicated to tell you.” Everything should be clear and explainable to you.
- Monitor the activity on your account. Insist on receiving regular statements.
- Ask Questions. Never be embarrassed or apologetic about asking questions for trading activity that looks excessive or unauthorized. It’s your money, not your broker’s.
- Keep Diligent Records. Keep all of your records relating to your investments, including notes of conversations you have with brokers, salespeople, and financial advisers.
Consumers can find helpful advice and a list of questions to consider in Attorney General Schuette’s Consumer Alert for Ponzi Schemes, available on the Schuette’s website at http://1.usa.gov/AGPonziAlert. Attorney General Schuette also offers specialized consumer advice for Michigan seniors on how to avoid investment fraud through the Senior Brigade website, http://bit.ly/investmentfraud.