UPDATED 1:24 P.M. ET NOV. 21 U.S.A. Back in September, the SEC civilly charged Steve Chen, USFIA Inc. and other entities with operating a “worldwide pyramid scheme” from Arcadia in Greater Los Angeles. Chen since has invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, hinting at an underlying criminal probe.
The amber-themed USFIA scheme pushed a purported cryptocurrency known as “gemcoins” and was alleged to have gathered on the order of $32 million. Thomas Seaman was appointed receiver.
Seaman now alleges in court filings that he entered with the U.S. Marshals Service the two-story office USFIA was using at 135 E. Live Oak [Ave.] in Arcadia to take “control and possession of the premises.” The Arcadia Police Department also assisted.
Chen was not initially present at the office when the takeover began, but up to 50 other individuals were, including 32 Chen employees, according to a Nov. 1 report by Seaman. The alleged scammer showed up “shortly” thereafter.
In this setting involving dozens of employees and office subtenants, federal agents, police officers, the receiver and presumably receivership staff, two very strange things happened.
Chen, according to the receiver, arrived “wearing a security guard uniform and carried a loaded gun, which was not concealed.”
And, according to Seaman, “The U.S. Marshals seized the weapon and also found $46,150 in cash in Chen’s car. The funds are being held by the Receiver.”
Ponzi and pyramid narratives often are strange to the point of being unnerving. With USFIA so far, we have the alleged presence of a purported financial titan hauling around a large wad of cash during an active investigation and, yes, allegedly appearing at headquarters with a “loaded gun” with dozens of people in the area.
Why Chen allegedly was wearing the uniform of a security guard was not explained in the report, but Seaman did note he also discovered “a weapons safe with ammunition, and owner’s manuals for two rifles (but not the [rifles] themselves)” in the company offices.
BehindMLM.com reported in September that some USFIA investors were worried about threats involving firearms.
Like Krista L. Freitag, the receiver in the WCM777 Ponzi- and pyramid scheme also operating from Greater Los Angeles and also targeting Asian population groups and other peoples who may lack command of English, Seaman suddenly finds himself in the real-estate business.
From the receiver’s report (italics added/formatting not precise/light editing performed):
2. Hills Garden Hotel
In the days following his appointment, the Receiver also took possession of the Hills Garden Hotel located on Ostrem Boulevard in Rancho Cucamonga. The 112 unit hotel was formerly a Days Inn, but had recently lost its flag with Days Inn. The Receiver is in financial control of the hotel and manages the hotel with the assistance of the on-site employees, many of whom had been employed by the hotel for many years prior to its purchase by the Receivership Entities on August 1, 2015. The Receiver confirmed that adequate insurance for the hotel is in place. It appears the hotel was going to be used by Defendants to conduct fundraising activities.
3. Other Real Properties
The Receiver also took possession of the following real properties:
A 36-unit apartment building located in Alhambra . . . A mansion located in Bradbury that was not used as a residence and appears to have been used for fundraising and investor relations. The home is apparently called the “Clubhouse.” . . . A single family home and a condominium, both located in Arcadia. Finally, the Receiver has also identified several other single family homes purchased with funds from the Receivership Entities and vested in other individuals or entities. The Receiver is further investigating and evaluating potential claims to recover these assets.
Meanwhile, the receiver says he has found two new large Mercedes vans, five diamonds located in Chen’s desk, a “bag of 1,160 Chinese New Year cards each containing a $5 bill” and “several designer (Chanel, Louis Vuitton, etc.) women’s bags, some of which appear to have authentic receipts. There is also an inventory of ornamental jewelry, none of which is characterized as either precious or semi-precious in nature.”
And what about gemcoins and claims of fabulous mineral wealth?
“Although the Receiver’s investigation is ongoing, at this point there is no indication of any legitimate Gemcoin or other viable business,” Seaman advised U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner. “There is also no indication the Receivership Entities had any significant sources of income other than monies raised from investors. Rather, based on documents located at the company headquarters and gathered from other sources, it does not appear that the assets described in online and written marketing materials actually exist. Instead of mines located around the world, millions of dollars in precious gems, and houses and cars available to be awarded to investors, the Receiver has found only costume jewelry and bins filled with rings of nominal value.”
Like alleged Ponzi-schemer Ming Xu at WCM777, Chen appears to have been involved in one way or another with dozens of business entities foreign and domestic.
Seaman has identified these to date, with his investigation ongoing:
- Aborell Realty Advisors LLC
- Aborell Realty Corporation
- AFG Holding Company
- Ahome Real Estate USA LLC
- Alhambra Gardens LLC
- Ally Investors LLC
- Ameritra Inc.
- Amkey Global
- Ammine Inc.
- Apollo Investors LP
- Chenne Corporation
- China-US Consultation Association
- First Investment Holding Company
- Great Wall Mountain LLC
- Hills Garden Hotel Inc.
- Hills Garden Hotel LLC
- International Gemstone Mining Association
- L’BE Group
- LH Investment LLC
- One World Currency Fund
- Quail Ranch Golf Club LLC
- Steamfont Capital Investment Group LLC
- Steamfont Investment Group LLC
- The New World Currency Fund
- To Quang Duan
- US Fovictor Jewel Investment LLC
- US-China Consultation Association Liaison/Consulting Services
- Weimar International Group Inc.
In California these days, Ponzi- and pyramid-schemers running offering frauds in which cash is siphoned and used to prop up a network of interrelated businesses may be targeting you if you have money or the dream of having money. And you may be particular target if you’re of Asian or Hispanic descent and if English is not your first language, making such schemes a form of affinity fraud.
The schemes may use shell companies and create a thicket of entities through which money may be laundered.
NOTE: Our thanks to the ASD Updates Blog.