LOS ANGELES – A San Gabriel Valley woman was sentenced today to 240 months in federal prison for causing tens of millions of dollars in losses to investors who provided funds intended for a hotel and condominium complex in the Coachella Valley, and then using the money to finance her lavish lifestyle.
Ruixue “Serena” Shi, 38, of Arcadia, was sentenced by United States District Judge R. Gary Klausner, who also ordered her to pay $35,842,329 in restitution.
Shi pleaded guilty in October 2021 to one count of wire fraud. Shi has been in federal custody since August 2020 after law enforcement discovered she had been researching how to flee the United States on a contraband iPhone while free on bond in this criminal case.
At today’s sentencing hearing, after Shi attempted to withdraw her guilty plea, Judge Klausner remarked, “There has been no acceptance of responsibility; there has been a denial of responsibility.”
From November 2015 to July 2018, Shi was the general manager of Global House Buyer LLC (GHB), a China-based real estate company that had an office in Los Angeles. Shi had reached an agreement with Dakota Development, a real estate development subsidiary of the Los Angeles-based lifestyle hospitality company SBE Entertainment, to build a real estate development in the City of Coachella under SBE’s brand name “Hyde.” Hyde Resorts was supposed to be a 207-unit luxury condominium and hotel complex with 95,000 square feet of conference facilities, a pool, spa, fitness center and other amenities.
Shi solicited investments in the Hyde complex from victims, the majority of whom were Chinese investors, by giving sales presentations at hotels and contacting victims over WeChat, a Chinese messaging, social media and mobile payment application.
To induce victims to invest in the Hyde complex, Shi falsely told them that their money would only be used to fund the Hyde development project. In reality, Shi used much of the victims’ money on her own personal expenses, including spending nearly $300,000 to purchase two luxury cars, spending approximately $2.2 million at a company that provided luxury travel and concierge services, and spending almost $800,000 in victim funds at a full-service styling agency in Beverly Hills, as well as using hundreds of thousands of dollars of victims’ money on high-end clothing designers, restaurants, and other stores.
In connection with the sentencing hearing, more than two dozen victims submitted statements to the court, with many describing the substantial financial hardship they experienced. Several discussed their reliance on Shi’s false promises that their investments would assist them in securing visas to immigrate to the United States. One victim even wrote that, after losing his retirement savings to Shi’s scheme, he “even contemplated suicide,” according to court papers filed by prosecutors.
In its sentencing papers, the government argued that victims lost at least $26,185,634 investing in Shi’s fraud scheme but that the actual figure could be far higher.
“Largely targeting her fellow Chinese nationals…Shi preyed on her victims’ hopes for a better life,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. “She exploited her victims’ ignorance of English and trust in the soundness of the American economy. And while her victims suffered financial ruin and psychological torment, [Shi] was living large off their investments.”
The FBI investigated this matter.
Assistant United States Attorney Alexander B. Schwab of the Major Frauds Section prosecuted this case.