President of Costa Rican Company Convicted in Half a Billion Dollar Fraud Scheme with Thousands of Victims Worldwide
WASHINGTON – The president of a Costa Rican company that sold reinsurance bonds to life settlement companies was found guilty by a federal jury in Richmond, Va., today for carrying out a half-billion-dollar fraud scheme that affected more than 2,000 victims throughout the United States and abroad.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil H. MacBride and Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division made the announcement following the jury’s verdict.
“Mr. Vargas lied to investors across the globe to sell almost half a billion dollars worth of ‘guaranteed’ bonds, which turned out to be worthless,” said U.S. Attorney MacBride. “His fraud affected thousands of victims around the world, many of whom invested their life savings with life settlement companies because of the worthless guarantees PCI made. Mr. Vargas may have thought he was safe operating his scheme from overseas, but his conviction is yet another example to global fraudsters: You can run, but you can’t hide. This verdict demonstrates our ability to pursue justice on behalf of U.S. victims regardless of where the fraudsters may be hiding.”
“Mr. Vargas reaped millions in profit from a sprawling scheme to defraud investors seeking to hedge their risk in the life settlements market,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “He used his ill-gotten gains to fund a soccer team and to provide financial comfort for his family and for himself. Today, a Virginia jury told Mr. Vargas that he would be held accountable, hopefully bringing some measure of peace to the investors he defrauded.”
Minor Vargas Calvo, 60, a citizen and resident of Costa Rica, is the present and majority owner of Provident Capital Indemnity (PCI) Ltd., an insurance and reinsurance company registered in the Commonwealth of Dominica and doing business in Costa Rica. He was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each fraud count and up to 10 years in prison on each money-laundering count when he is sentenced on Oct. 23, 2012.
According to court records and evidence at trial, PCI sold financial guarantee bonds to companies selling life settlements, or securities backed by life settlements, to investors. These bonds were marketed to PCI’s clients as a way to alleviate the risk of insured beneficiaries living beyond their life expectancy. The clients, in turn, typically explained to their investors that the financial guarantee bonds ensured that the investors would receive their expected return on investment irrespective of whether the insured on the underlying life settlement lived beyond his or her life expectancy.
Evidence at trial showed that Calvo and PCI’s purported independent auditor for PCI, Jorge Castillo, 56, of New Jersey, used lies and omissions to mislead PCI’s clients and investors regarding its ability to pay claims when due on the financial guarantee bonds that PCI issued. Calvo caused Castillo to prepare audited financial statements that falsely claimed that PCI had entered into reinsurance contracts with major reinsurance companies. These false claims, which were supported by a letter from Castillo stating that he conducted an audit of PCI’s financial records, were used to assure PCI’s clients that the reinsurance companies were backstopping the majority of the risk that PCI had insured through its financial guarantee bonds. The fraudulent financial statements PCI distributed showed significant assets and relatively small liabilities.
From 2004 through 2010, PCI sold at least $485 million of bonds to life settlement investment companies located in various countries, including the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and elsewhere. PCI’s clients, in turn, sold investment offerings backed by PCI’s bonds to thousands of investors around the world. Purchasers of PCI’s bonds were required to pay up-front payments of six to 11 percent of the underlying settlement as “premium” payments to PCI before the company would issue the bonds.
Evidence at trial showed that Vargas sent more than $23 million of his ill-gotten gains to fund his professional soccer team in Costa Rica, to his unrelated companies, to his family and to himself. Due, in part, to these expenditures, when it came time to make good on PCI’s promises to pay bond holders, Vargas resorted to yet more lies to justify PCI’s inability to do so.
Castillo, who was a PCI employee prior to becoming PCI’s “outside auditor,” pleaded guilty on Nov. 21, 2011, to conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Castillo is scheduled to be sentenced on May 22, 2012. In addition, the corporation, PCI, pleaded guilty on April 18, 2012, to conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud, which carries a maximum term of five years’ probation.
This continuing investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Internal Revenue Service and FBI, with assistance from the Virginia State Corporation Commission, the Texas State Securities Board and the New Jersey Bureau of Securities. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael S. Dry and Jessica Aber Brumberg of the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney Albert B. Stieglitz Jr. of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) conducted a parallel investigation and in January 2011 filed a parallel civil enforcement action against PCI, Vargas and Castillo. The department thanks the SEC for its assistance in this matter.
The investigation has been coordinated by the Virginia Financial and Securities Fraud Task Force, an unprecedented partnership between criminal investigators and civil regulators to investigate and prosecute complex financial fraud cases in the nation and in Virginia specifically. The task force is an investigative arm of the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, an interagency national task force.
President Obama established the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.