Good morning, and thank you all for being here.
I’m pleased to be joined today by several key leaders in our collective effort to combat financial fraud – FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry and SEC Director of Enforcement Robert Khuzami, as well as the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Chief Postal Inspector, Guy Cottrell; IRS Criminal Investigation Deputy Chief Rick Raven; and Commodity Futures Trading Commission Acting Director of Enforcement Vincent McGonagle.
We are here to announce the results of Operation Broken Trust, a three-and-a-half-month targeting of investment fraud schemes throughout the country – and a critical step forward in law enforcement’s work to protect American investors, to ensure the strength of our markets, and to prevent financial fraud schemes.
While there is nothing new about conducting nationwide operations and sweeps – this one is different in that it brought together a broad array of criminal and civil enforcement tools, at both the federal and state level, to attack investment fraud schemes collectively. Operation Broken Trust is the first national operation in history to target the many different types of investment fraud schemes that prey directly on the investing public.
This historic effort has been coordinated, executed, and led by members of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force that President Obama created in November 2009. This task force is the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever established to combat fraud. Multiple federal agencies, as well as partners at the state level, are working together to ensure that no stone is left unturned when it comes to protecting consumers and investors.
Our mission is simple – to bring financial fraud schemes to light and those who operate them to justice. And our aggressive, coordinated approach is working.
Since Operation Broken Trust was launched on August 16th, all across the country investment fraud cases have been prioritized. To date, the operation has involved enforcement actions against 310 criminal defendants and 189 civil defendants, whose conduct harmed more than 120,000 victims. Several individuals have been charged with defrauding men and women across the country out of thousands – and sometimes millions – of dollars. The cases in this operation involve a variety of different investment fraud schemes that have led to approximately $8.3 billion in losses in just the criminal cases alone. Staggering numbers. These losses represent hard-earned money and even life savings. They represent needs that may not be met and dreams that may not be fulfilled. *
All of these victims can tell a tragic and cautionary story of being misled and exploited – often by someone they trusted. In fact, many of the scam artists we’ve identified were preying on their own neighbors – and on the most vulnerable members of their communities. Several of those prosecuted during this operation solicited victim investors from their own churches. One man in Texas allegedly targeted his fellow parishioners, asking them to invest with him and claiming that his success in foreign exchange trading was “a blessing from God.”
In Florida, one defendant was convicted recently for his role in an investment scam that specifically targeted the local Haitian community. In Ohio, a former police officer operating a Ponzi scheme solicited investments from active and retired police officers and firefighters. And in Chicago, another Ponzi scheme resulted in more than $30 million in losses to hundreds of victims – many of them elderly, Italian immigrants. As a result of our prosecution, the man who operated this scheme has been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.
Many of the criminals we’ve identified used investor funds to support lavish lifestyles. One man operating an $880 million Ponzi scheme in Florida duped investors from across the country – and used the money to buy floor seats at professional basketball games and to make payments on his personal yacht, his beach house, and his Mercedes. A New Jersey man charged with operating an investment scam allegedly used investor funds to make payments on three different luxury cars and to pay fees at two country clubs.
With this operation, the task force is sending two messages. A message to the public: be alert for these frauds, take appropriate measures to protect yourself, and report such schemes to proper authorities when they occur. And a second message to anyone operating or attempting to operate an investment scam: we will use every tool at our disposal to find you, to stop you, and to bring you to justice. Cheating investors out of their earnings and savings is no longer a safe business plan.
Along with the agencies represented here on stage, I also want to thank the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Secret Service, and the National Association of Attorneys General. Because of their work, and the contributions of everyone involved in Operation Broken Trust, dozens of criminals who hatched fraud schemes now face significant time behind bars – including one sentence of 85 years.
Although this operation marks an important step forward, our fight to combat financial fraud goes on. The task force will continue working with consumer groups to increase financial literacy and raise awareness about the warning signs of financial scams. And we encourage investors to share tips and concerns with us by visiting stopfraud.gov. With the commitment of so many partners and with the help of an informed public, I am confident that we can take our fight against financial fraud to a new level.
And now I’d like to turn things over to FBI Executive Assistant Director, Shawn Henry.
* Numbers updated as of Dec. 14, 2010