MORE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS FOR HYIP SCAMMERS? SEC Whacks Another ‘Small’ Ponzi; Agency Says Firm Used Asset ‘Freeze’ Ruse To String Along Victims

EDITOR’S NOTE: The SEC complaint against Candice D. Campbell is yet-another case apt to cause unease in the incongruous worlds of online HYIP, autosurf and investment fraudsters. Among the allegations against Campbell, a purported day-trader and “CFO” of an unincorporated, Canton, Mich.-based company known as CJ’s Financial, is that she lied to investors and used a website to weave a false tale to prospects. When payments dried up earlier this year, the company allegedly emailed false information to investors in a bid to lull them. An evidence exhibit in the case shows that a free Yahoo email account was used, rather than an email account originating on the purported investment company’s servers.

The investment-fraud landscape is filled with incongruities. The use of free email services by purportedly successful investment companies to hawk programs and explain away problems is just one of them. Other incongruities that often signal fraud include claims that monthly returns of a preposterous percentage are “guaranteed” and that investors need not worry about paying taxes. Such claims are notable parts of the investment-fraud universe — and are elements in the SEC’s case against Campbell.

Here, now, the story on the Campbell allegations . . .

Investigators have whacked yet-another “small” Ponzi scheme — one in which Candice D. Campbell of Canton. Mich., is alleged to have used a number of claims typically associated with online HYIP and investment-fraud schemes.

The SEC has obtained an emergency asset freeze in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against Campbell and her unregistered company, CJ’s Financial (CJF). The scheme collected more than $1 million from 60 investors between May 2009 and June 2010, the agency said.

CJF’s website now appears to be offline. But the SEC said that, as recently as July 9, the firm portrayed itself on the website as an “independent investment firm dedicated to putting your money to work for you!”

Investors were told their funds were “guaranteed” to generate returns of at least 10 percent monthly. Claims of unusually high, “guaranteed” returns are one of the classic signatures of fraudsters, according to regulators.

Another classic hallmark of fraud is a claim lacking supporting details that a company or individual is “registered” or “licensed.” Among the SEC’s assertions against Campbell was that CJF used a vague claim that she was “licensed by the appropriate licensing agency for the financial planner/investment banker profession and that he/she is in good standing with such agency.”

The SEC said Campbell was registered neither with the SEC nor the Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation. Campbell formerly worked in the “automobile industry,” according to the SEC.

Her role in the automobile industry was not immediately clear.

At the same time, in a claim that featured the use of capital letters for emphasis, CJF investors were told their “initial investment will NEVER go down in value” and that “there will be ‘NO PENALTIES OR TAXES to pay when you withdraw your money, because CJ’s Financial pays your Capital Gains taxes!'”

Frequent use of capital letters to stress sales points and an accompanying appeal to purported “tax” benefits often are associated with investment-fraud schemes.

When the CJF scheme began to collapse, the firm allegedly trotted out what regulators previously have described as a classic ruse to mask a Ponzi scheme in progress — fabricating a government action or events that had not occurred to explain why a business was not meeting its obligations to investors.

The SEC even used the word “ruse” in its complaint against Campbell and the company, highlighting the allegation under a subhead that reads, “Defendants Create A Phony SEC Asset Freeze As A Ruse To Prevent Investors From Withdrawing Their Money.

Meanwhile, the agency used strong verbs to paint a word picture of the scam (emphasis added by PP Blog):

“In 2010, as investors began requesting the return of their money, Defendants concocted a scheme to convince investors that, notwithstanding Defendants’ prior representations that investors would be able to withdraw their money ‘whenever they want,’ Defendants could not return investor funds. Defendants told investors that CJF’s bank accounts and other assets had been frozen by the Commission.”

In truth, the SEC said, the money had not been frozen. The agency then laid out an allegation that a CJF employee using a free yahoo email address to conduct business for CJF sent repeated emails to customers to update them on events that were not really happening.

The emails, which the SEC released in redacted form, paint a picture of CJF lulling investors with words and describing a purported meeting among the company, its “attorneys” and the agency that never occurred.

“[O]n May 26, 2010, Ramona Mangan, who is Campbell’s assistant, sent an e-mail to CJF’s clients updating them about the ongoing ‘government’ investigation of CJF,” the agency alleged. “Mangan acknowledged that CJF ‘knows and understands’ that ‘[m]any individuals are in need of money,’ and assured investors CJF was ‘doing everything we can do to get this issue corrected.’

“Nevertheless,” the agency continued, “Mangan claimed that ‘CJ’s Financial hands are tied in this matter.’ According to Mangan, ‘Since the Ponzi Scheme in 2009 government officials do not investigate lightly and perform detailed investigations to ensure the public is safe from fraudulent activity and trading.'”

On June 3, Mangan sent another email — this one claiming that CJF’s assets had been frozen and that company “attorneys” were working with the SEC and visited its offices June 1 to determine when the purported asset freeze would be lifted, according to the agency.

“According to Mangan,” the SEC said, “‘CJ’s Financial and attorneys [sic] went to the SEC (Security Exchange [sic] Commission) office on Tuesday June 1, 2010. The intentions of the meeting were to obtain a time frame as to when all assets, including CJ’s Financial accounts will be un-frozen and to find out what issues have been defined by the SEC as civil infractions.'”

“Later in the e-mail,” the SEC continued, “Mangan reiterated that ‘All assets, bank accounts and TD accounts are frozen UNTIL the SEC, which is a branch of the government is finished with their investigation.’ Mangan quoted the ‘SEC lead investigator’ as stating that ‘bank accounts, assets and trading accounts will become available when the investigation is over.’ Mangan assured investors that ‘Our main concern at CJ’s Financial is to complete the investigation as quickly as possible, so we can transfer all requested withdrawals and continue trading once again.'”

Campbell made similar claims to investors, the agency alleged.

Regardless, the agency said, “Contrary to the information Mangan and Campbell provided to investors, there was no meeting on June 1, 2010 between the Commission and CJF and its attorneys, and the Commission had not frozen Defendants’ bank accounts, trading accounts, or other assets. Defendants fabricated this story to keep investors from realizing Defendants had stolen their money.”

Mangan is not named a defendant in the complaint.

Investigators said Campbell used only a “small” percentage of the more than $1 million collected to make trades.

“Campbell diverted the money for personal uses, including paying for vacations, cars, jewelry, sporting goods, and furniture,” the SEC charged. “Classic” Ponzi payments were made to some investors, the agency added.

Here is how Campbell, who is accused of depositing client funds into her personal account and diverting “at least” $540,000 for her personal use, spent much of the money, according to the SEC:

  • Cash withdrawals ($138,000).
  • Purchases of airline tickets and travel, including travel to resorts in Florida and Arizona ($127,000).
  • Purchases from several jewelry retailers ($33,046).
  • Purchases from sporting-goods retailers ($28,350).
  • Purchases from furniture stores ($29,124).
  • Purchases from a laser-surgery center ($20,650).
  • Purchases at automobile dealerships (at least $100,000).

“In an apparent effort to keep the Ponzi scheme from collapsing, Campbell used more than $350,000 of investor money to pay other investors,” the SEC charged.

Read the SEC complaint. (Make sure you read the emails, which are included in the PDF file.)

The SEC claims this June email painted a false picture than CJF could not pay investors because the agency had frozen its assets. The SEC did not file a complaint against the company and gain an asset freeze until Aug. 4. NOTE: The entire email is not reproduced in this screen shot, and the PP Blog added the red lines.

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4 Responses to “MORE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS FOR HYIP SCAMMERS? SEC Whacks Another ‘Small’ Ponzi; Agency Says Firm Used Asset ‘Freeze’ Ruse To String Along Victims”

  1. Now that’s funny. If you tell the suckers you can’t pay ’cause the SEC froze the accounts, you have to figure one of them will call the SEC for information, and if they’re not investigating you when they call, they are when they hang up.

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  2. Now that’s funny. If you tell the suckers you can’t pay ’cause the SEC froze the accounts, you have to figure one of them will call the SEC for information, and if they’re not investigating you when they call, they are when they hang up.

    Hi Gregg,

    This case reminded me of the Merkle case — also in Michigan:

    http://patrickpretty.com/2009/12/24/michigan-men-who-urged-victims-not-to-cooperate-with-fbi-sentenced-to-prison-in-oil-and-gas-ponzi-scheme/

    And parts of it reminded me of the Legisi/Matt Gagnon cases, also in Michigan:

    http://patrickpretty.com/2010/05/26/online-ponzi-forum-bombshell-matt-gagnon-a-danger-to-the-investing-public-sec-says-federal-judge-freezes-assets-of-mazu-com-pitchman-who-promoted-legisi-other-alleged-scams/

    And parts of it reminded me of the Hamlin case, also in Michigan:

    http://patrickpretty.com/2009/11/28/michigan-man-who-claimed-investment-returns-of-131-percent-guilty-in-ponzi-scheme-case-mark-richard-hamlins-day-trading-scheme-comparable-to-asds-dangerous-8020-reinvestment-program/

    Patrick

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  3. It kind of reminds me of when Andy Bowdoin went to the Florida authorities claiming people were saying bad things about him. We all know where that lead. I honestly cannot understand why they (crooks) seem to knowingly bring themselves to be under they eye of scrutiny. It’s comical, at times. Maybe it’s just “Karma”.

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  4. i know candice campbell..i was very suprised she wasnt caught sooner..she has paraded her new found wealth for the last 2 years..turns out it wasnt even her money.lol..i do feel sorry for her kid and her un born baby(she is 7 months pregant right now… the kids did not ask for this..i blame her no neck fiancee for some of this.. i also think that the clients themselves are too blame a bit too..who hands over large sums of money to someone they dont know without researching who they are giving it too..dah…..

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