By Eric Johnson
Fraud. Despite the fact that more than half of all residents in the state of Utah claim to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon), there are a good number of people who, for many years, have stolen the hard-earned money of local residents. These white-collar thieves take others’ money without having to brandish a pistol or knife.
According to the Utah Department of Commerce, the most common scams in Utah for 2016 are:
- Unlicensed Investment Advisers: A person needs to have a securities license to be able to invest money for others in the financial markets. Common tactics used may include a free “educational seminar” or “portfolio review.” High-pressure tactics are used at these seminars or reviews “to frighten investors into bad financial decisions.”
- Advance Fee Schemes. Investors are convinced to pay an advance fee (often explained as needed to pay taxes, custom fees, legal fees or other related expenses) that will be used by a promoter or company to release or access a much larger account or pot of money.
- Unsecured Promissory Notes. In an environment of low interest rates, the promise of high interest-bearing promissory notes may be tempting to investors, especially seniors and others living on a fixed income.
- Real Estate Financing Investments. Investors should continue to be wary of opportunities to invest in real estate development projects that have been unable to secure more traditional types of financing. The Division of Securities is seeing many more cases of fraud involving these types of real estate investments.
- Ponzi Schemes and Affinity Fraud. The premise of a Ponzi scheme is simple: pay early investors with money raised from later investors in order to create the illusion of a profitable business or investment. The only people certain to make money are the promoters who set the Ponzi scheme in motion. (For the entire article, click here.)
Utah law prohibits a person to “knowingly participate in, organize, establish, promote or administer” these types of schemes That hasn’t stopped those in Utah who seek to take advantage of others, according to The Economist:
In 2010, regulators and the FBI were investigating cases there with 4,400 victims and perhaps $1.4 billion (or $500 for every Utahn) in losses. The numbers have surely climbed since, with the three largest cases alone involving combined losses of up to $700 million, says one investigator. (“Fleecing the Flock,” The Economist, Janurary 28, 2012)
Possibly the most common tactic used by Utah criminals is the Ponzi, or pyramid, schemes. This, according to the Utah Department of Commerce, is a term that refers to
a fraud designed to give investors the impression that an investment is profitable. In a Ponzi scheme the fraudster pays early investors with money that is thought to be profits from the business, but is actually money from their own principal investment dollars or the pooled investment dollars of subsequent investors. As new investment dollars are paid out to previous investors, the fraudster seeks more investors to fund the “payments” being made.
Since Ponzi schemes need an ever-increasing supply of new investors to maintain payments to prior investors (and possibly support the fraudster’s life-style), all Ponzi schemes ultimately collapse as the fraudster will eventually fail to find enough new investors to cover the payments to all prior investors.
The problem has been long recognized by the government and media. For instance, in 2010, the FBI said its office in Salt Lake City was one of the top 5 places for Ponzi schemes. In fact,
the investigation firm Marquet International placed Utah at No. 5 for what it calls a “Ponzi Propensity Ratio.” In addition, “the most common victims of Ponzi schemes are the elderly, but in Utah, almost half of all financial fraud cases have targeted members of the LDS Church. People intending to defraud others may do so more successfully by using common interests and emotional ties to attract investors and build trust. Source
Examples of recent schemes perpetuated on Utah residents
Let’s take a look at some recent schemes (at least the ones that were caught) during the past three years in Utah (starting with the newest):
- Dee Allen Randall: “A Kaysville insurance agent has pleaded guilty to five of 20 counts in connection with a Ponzi scheme that took more than $72 million from about 700 people. Dee Allen Randall, 65, pleaded guilty Monday (7/11/16). . . The crimes are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Sentencing is set for Feb. 6, 2017. . .” Randall sold “Horizon Notes,” promising returns of 9 to 17 percent; those who invested were told the money would finance car loans and real estate. “Most of the investors were sold on the high interest rate because Randall had a good reputation in the insurance industry and was an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But prosecutors claim monies from new investors were used to pay earlier investors to make it appear the businesses were profitable. Many victims put their entire retirement or life savings into Randall’s entities. Some took out equity from their homes to invest. Other monies were obtained from paid-out life insurance policies upon the death of loved ones. As a result, many investors have lost their entire retirements, homes or insurance policies because they were unable to make the payments once Randall stopped paying interest checks on their Horizon Notes.” (“Kaysville man pleads guilty in Ponzi scheme case,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 15, 2016)
- John Holdaway: “A federal grand jury indicted a Utah man for running a $7 Million Ponzi scheme with an accomplice in California, court records show. The indictment alleges 72-year-old John Holdaway, of Sandy, ran a scheme with 68-year-old Kevin Kyes, of Campbell, California, to defraud investors of millions. … Holdaway and Kyes tricked investors, most of whom were from Japan, into investing a total of $7 million with a group of variously-named entities, collectively referred to as “Money Management Strategies,” according to charging documents. The investments took place between Dec. 2012 and July 2015. Instead of investing the money as promised, records state that Holdaway and Kyes “spent the money on themselves,” and used “Ponzi scheme” tactics to make investors believe their investors were profitable and convince other people to invest….Holdaway and Kyes are both charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, and engaging on monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity. They face up to 20 years in federal prison. ” (“Utah man indicted for running $7 million Ponzi scheme,” KUTV.com, June 16, 2016)
- Lori Ann Anderson: “A Logan woman will spend two to 30 years in prison after she misled investors and defrauded them of more than $1.7 million. Lori Ann Anderson, 54, pleaded guilty to two counts of securities fraud and one count of pattern of unlawful activity, all second-degree felonies, on January 23, according to a news release from the Utah attorney general’s office. ‘Anderson’s crime is especially egregious, as she has been previously convicted of fraud and she continued to prey on neighbors and friends,’ said Eric Barnhart, FBI Salt Lake City special agent in charge, in the release. Anderson spent time in prison in 1992 after defrauding insurance-policy holders of $140,000, the news release says. Keith Woodwell, director of the Utah Division of Securities, described the case as a ‘grim repeat performance, deluding unsuspecting victims into handing over their trust and money in a church environment.’ He said in the news release that affinity fraud is the ‘most damaging white-collar crime, where fraudsters not only steal the nest eggs of Utah victims, but destroy their trusting nature as well.’ A joint investigation with the FBI, the Utah Division of Securities and the Utah attorney general’s office found that 46 people had lost more than $1.7 million as a result of Anderson’s actions, the release says. More than 10 victims, some in tears, addressed the court at the sentencing hearing, expressing a feeling of betrayal, according to the release. She misrepresented the business’ success to her investors, telling them she made returns of about 10 percent per year and never had a losing day trading, when she actually lost $300,000 trading between 2013 and 2015, according to the news release. Despite these losses, Anderson sent investors false account statements that purported to show gains, the release says. A search warrant for Anderson’s home was issued in July 2015, and during the search, she admitted to lying to investors, the news release says. By the time of the search warrant, Anderson claimed she only had about $40,000 of the original $1.7 million in investor funds remaining.” (“Utah woman sentenced gets prison for a second round of defrauding investors,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 24, 2016) .
- Chad Roger Deucher: “A federal grand jury has indicted an Orem man for allegedly operating a Ponzi scheme that brought in about $28 million from 250 investors.. . . About 170 of the total investors lost about $16 million. . . Chad Roger Deucher, 43, allegedly promised returns of up to 22 percent–and monthly interest rates as high as 12 percent . .. to entice investors into his company . . . investing in buying and fixing up high quality properties that generated cash flow . . .He faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $5 million.” (“Utah man charged in alleged $28 million Ponzi scheme,” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 6, 2016).
- John Scott Clark: “Logan businessman John Scott Clark pleaded guilty and was sentenced to federal prison Thursday for defrauding investors of $1.84 million, his second guilty plea in a criminal case in a little over three years. … Clark was on supervised release on his prior conviction in a New York gambling case when he started the fraud scheme that landed him in court on Thursday (March 31). He pleaded guilty to securities fraud for telling 46 investors that he could make them returns of 15 percent to 15,000 percent by investing in foreign oil contracts tied to the Iraqi dinar currency. Instead, Clark spent all the money on personal expenses and did not make any of the promised investments. Shelby ordered Clark to repay the $1.84 million and said he must be supervised for three years after he leaves prison. … Clark told investors that he and a business partner “were members of a top secret U.S. military and government program and held special security clearances which enabled them to invest in the purchase and sale of Iraqi dinar and oil contracts,” according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by the Securities and Exchange Commission. He also boasted of ties to the president of Kuwait, the president of the International Monetary Fund, President Barack Obama and three former U.S. presidents. … Some of the investors in the Iraqi dinar case also were investors in his earlier Ponzi scheme, the SEC said. Clark also solicited members of his local church congregation, according to the complaint.” (“Utah businessman gets prison for defrauding people while on probation,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 31, 2016).
- Wayne Palmer and Julieann Palmer Martin: “A federal grand jury has indicted West Jordan businessman Wayne Palmer and his cousin on 48 charges related to an alleged Ponzi scheme that raised more than $140 million from 600 or more investors, many of whom lost all or part of their funds. Palmer, 60, and Julieann Palmer Martin, 47, face charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering connected to the operation of Palmer’s company, National Note of Utah. … Palmer and Martin solicited investors from around the country for National Note, which extended real estate loans, engaged in other real estate activities, operated a mint and also claimed to extract precious metals from mine tailings. The indictment alleges that the pair used fraudulent or misleading statements, including that investments were safe and guaranteed and that the company was always profitable, generating 18 percent or more a year that enabled it to pay a consistent 12 percent annual return to investors.”(“Grand Jury indicts two Utahns for alleged Ponzi Scheme,” Salt Lake Tribune, August 20, 2015)
- Wendell A. Jacobson and Allen R. Jacobson: “A father and son who federal regulators accused of running a Ponzi scheme nearly four years ago now face criminal charges in state court. The Utah Attorney General’s Office charged Wendell A. Jacobson, 61, and Allen R. Jacobson, 36, with 15 counts of securities fraud and one count of pattern of unlawful activity in 3rd District Court this week. Wendell Jacobson owned a real estate investment firm in Fountain Green called Management Solutions, and his son managed investor relations. Prosecutors allege the Jacobsons, through a complex web of more than 200 corporate entities, raised more than $200 million from 400 investors with “material and pervasive misrepresentations” starting in 2008. The Jacobsons used their membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to find and gain the trust of prospective investors, according to a probable cause statement….The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint against the Jacobsons in December 2011 in what federal authorities described as a $220 million Ponzi scheme. The SEC alleged that father and son used their LDS Church affiliation to attract investors. Wendell Jacobson was the bishop of a Snow College student ward at the time.” (“Prosecutor: Father, son used LDS Church membership in Ponzi scheme,” ksl.com, June 25, 2015)
- Armand R. Franquelin: “A Weber County man has been sentenced to serve nearly five years in federal prison and ordered to pay $6.5 million in restitution to the people he defrauded in a scam that involved a Vernal real estate project. Armand R. Franquelin, of Liberty, was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court to serve 57 months in federal prison for securities fraud and money laundering. Judge Dale Kimball also ordered Franquelin to make restitution to his victims and placed him on supervised release for three years after his prison sentence is complete. … Franquelin, 57, and Pool, 44, admitted that from 2006 to 2010 they convinced investors to convert traditional IRAs to self-directed IRA accounts and invest their funds in a residential real estate project in Vernal known as Haven Estates, according to court records. In return, investors were given notes promising monthly interest payments at annual rates between 8 percent and 20 percent, federal investigators said.” (“Utah man sentenced to federal prison for Vernal real estate scam,” Deseret News, October 2, 2014).
- Steven B. Heinz: “In the latest affinity-fraud scheme detected in Utah, an Orem man conducted a $4 million offering fraud and Ponzi scheme aimed at church associates, family members and friends, including senior citizens and the ‘recent widow of a church associate’ whom he volunteered to help with finances after she lost her husband. Heinz, 56, promised some investors that they would earn tax-free income if they provided a ‘loan’ to Heinz to invest for them. And Heinz has issued investment contracts to investors which guarantees returns ranging from 6% to 120% per year.” “Some of the money Heinz invested went into high-risk futures contracts that he rapidly traded, losing more $1.5 million since January of 2012, the SEC alleged. Another $1 million went toward personal expenses, which included paying for a vacation to Mexico for more than 20 family members and repaying a $600,000 loan taken out against a personal life insurance policy more than a decade ago, court documents say.” (“Federal regulators allege Orem man ran Ponzi scheme,” Salt Lake Tribune, August 12, 2013) In 2014 Heinz settled to repay more than $3.6 million back, which he said he would work to do.
Now, mind you, the above is not a complete list. I could have added more. And if I were to go back further than three years, I would have many more from which to choose!
Recent Utah legislation
The problem of people getting swindled out of their hard-earned money is not a recent problem in Utah. A decade and a half ago, the Deseret News published an article titled “Utah County is a hot-bed for white-collar crimes” (December 6, 2001). Referring to Utah County, which includes Provo (home of LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University), the paper reported:
Federal and state officials say the majority of the state’s fraud schemes originate in the politically conservative 360,000-resident region just south of Salt Lake City. Experts say the many get-rich-quick schemes involving real estate or crafty stock market investments target members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is estimated that 85 percent of residents in Utah County are members of the LDS Church. Called “affinity fraud,” investigators say scam artists have been known to swindle the home equities and life savings out of fellow church members. FBI agent Jim Malpede said such cases often don’t become public largely because the victims are embarrassed they were sometimes swindled by somebody who worshipped in the same Mormon congregation, which is called a “ward” in LDS culture. Such fraud — using church groups or cultural ties — costs Americans an estimated $10 million to $20 million a day, according to the FBI. FBI agents in Utah estimate that between 60 percent and 70 percent of the financial fraud cases they investigate come out of Utah County. That includes security frauds and Ponzi, straw-buyer and illegal multilevel marketing schemes. “Utah County, per capita, (has) to have the largest amount of it in the entire country,” Malpede said. He added that at any given time the FBI is investigating from $50 million to $100 million in fraud scams in Utah County. “Some of the larger (schemes) run out of Utah County take victims from all over the country and all over the world,” he said. “One of the great things about Utah, about living here, is that you can generally trust the people. We have a very low rate of violent crime. It’s mostly, ‘Trust your neighbor, help people out when they need help.’ It’s just the nature of the area. What comes with that is a particular amount of vulnerability.”
Michael Hines, who was the director of enforcement for the Utah Securities Division, was interviewed and said that
“investors in Utah County may trust a little more than others may. “If you have someone in Utah County coming to their neighbors with tattoos and a bandana, asking them to participate” of course they will say no. It’s different if the person is in the same LDS ward, he said. Hines said often the perpetrator of the fraud will ask victims to “pray” about the investment. “People need to realize that God is not a good investment adviser,” he said. “Some of the largest successful corporations have been through affinity, through the church,” Hines said. Hines said it is always good business practice to research the investment to determine the risk. Upon some research, it may be determined the scheme is illegal, he said.
In the past the Mormon Church has recognized the problem of its people getting swindled. For example, at the April 2001 LDS General Conference, Apostle M. Russell Ballard stated,
There are no shortcuts to financial security. There are no get-rich-quick schemes that work. Perhaps none need the principle of balance in their lives more than those who are driven toward accumulating “things” in this world. Do not trust your money to others without a thorough evaluation of any proposed investment. Our people have lost far too much money by trusting their assets to others.
In 2015, the Utah state legislature authorized an online registry of names for those who have committed white-collar crimes, which became active in mid-February 2016. According to The New York Times,
With just a point and a click, you can browse a face book of felons, a new government website that will warn of the danger these criminals pose to society. Only these are not the faces of sex offenders and serial killers. These criminals are mortgage schemers and inside traders, most likely armed with nothing more than an M.B.A. or a law degree. Their faces will soon appear online courtesy of the Utah Legislature, which on Wednesday approved a measure to build the nation’s first white-collar offender registry, appending a scarlet letter of sorts on the state’s financial felons. The registry — quirky even by the standards of a legislature that this week reinstated firing squads as a method of execution — will be replete with a “a recent photograph” of Utah’s white-collar offenders and, in case they try to run or hide, their “date of birth, height, weight, and eye and hair color.” “White-collar crime is an epidemic in Utah,” said Sean Reyes, the state’s attorney general who formulated the idea for the registry when he was a defense lawyer, “representing some of these bad guys.” A former mixed martial arts fighter who has a metal plate lodged in his eye socket from a basketball injury, Mr. Reyes noted that while violent crimes were devastating, many “physical wounds heal,” whereas white-collar crimes “can forever deplete your life savings.” (“Utah Passes White-Collar Felon Registry,” New York Times, March 11, 2015)
The Atlantic published an article in March 29, 2016, asking the question in its headline, “Why is Utah the First State to Have a White-Collar Crime Registry?” Its answer:
The perpetrators of affinity fraud pray on groups with strong social ties, such as religious and ethnic communities. Usually, it involves a fraudster being, or pretending to be, a member of the group, and subsequently exploiting the trust of that community to run a Ponzi scheme. As Lisa Fairfax, a law professor at George Washington University, wrote, the scam is based on the premise that “You can trust me because I’m like you.” It works—well.
The article cited Utah’s Attorney General Sean Reyes as saying
that estimated losses from affinity fraud in Utah adds up to hundreds of millions annually. Sixty percent of Utah’s population is Mormon, which has made the state a prime target for religious-based affinity fraud. According to Reyes, “This dynamic exists in Utah and people in our state are very trusting of each other. Trust is a positive characteristic that makes our communities in Utah very family and business friendly. But the downside of trust manifests itself when you trust the wrong people.”
For too many Mormons, feelings take precedence over evidence. Praying about the Book of Mormon and feeling God’s Spirit is a priority. And many Latter-day Saints are too willing to trust their leaders and fellow members for far too much, from their eternal souls to their hard-earned savings. God has given us minds for a reason. To the gullible come many consequences. Trusting people “just because” is a dangerous precedent. Instead, it must be understood that Satan prowls about and looks for those he may devour. Jesus said that false prophets would come as “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Although Jesus didn’t say “financial shucksters,” it can be seen that much discernment is needed for everday financial affairs as well.