Ex-Beverly Hills Stockbroker Convicted of Securities Fraud in $200 Million Portfolio-Pumping Stock Manipulation Scheme
LOS ANGELES – A former Beverly Hills stockbroker who worked with fugitive hedge fund manager Florian Homm was found guilty by a jury late this afternoon of 18 federal criminal charges for participating in a stock manipulation scheme designed to pump up the reported profits of hedge funds that fraudulently caused investors approximately $200 million in losses.
Todd Ficeto, 52, of Marion, Ohio, was found guilty after a 17-day jury trial. The jury found Ficeto guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud, seven counts of securities fraud, two counts of investment adviser fraud, one count of money laundering conspiracy, five counts of unlawful money transactions, one count of obstruction of justice, and one count of making false statements.
Ficeto was the president of a Beverly Hills-based broker-dealer, Hunter World Markets, which he co-owned with Florian Wilhelm Jürgen Homm, who was first indicted in March 2013 on charges of securities fraud and wire fraud after he was arrested in Italy. Homm later fled to Germany and is a fugitive from justice. Homm was the founder and chief investment officer of Absolute Capital Management Holdings (ACMH), a Cayman Islands-based investment advisor that operated from Palma de Majorca in Spain and managed eight hedge funds (the Absolute Funds).
Between September 2004 and September 2007, Homm directed the Absolute Funds to buy billions of shares of thinly traded, United States-based “penny stocks” through Hunter World Markets that Ficeto located and brought to Homm through investment banking deals. Ficeto then facilitated the manipulative stock purchases and caused millions of shares of the same penny stocks to be given to Homm, Hunter World Markets, and CIC Global Capital, which was controlled by co-defendants Colin Heatherington, of Port Alberni, British Columbia, Canada; and Craig Heatherington, of Queensland, Australia.
Ficeto, Homm, and other co-conspirators fraudulently manipulated the penny stocks to inflate and artificially prop up their prices to exaggerate the purported profitability of the Absolute Capital hedge funds. As a result, the co-conspirators were able to sell their own shares of the penny stocks at the inflated prices to the hedge funds. The stock price inflation also served to fraudulently overstate the performance of the hedge funds which, in turn, generated substantial performance fees and other compensation for defendant Homm and his co-conspirators. The co-conspirators then used the inflated performance figures to induce investments from unsuspecting victim-investors.
Ficeto and his co-conspirators worked together in an elaborate conspiracy to launder the illicit proceeds throughout the world.
Ficeto also engaged in unlawful monetary transactions by sending nearly $10 million of illicit proceeds to an account in the Cook Islands days before his testimony before the Securities and Exchange Commission, and then lied to the SEC about the Cook Islands account. Ficeto also used a hedge fund called the Hunter Fund, in which the Absolute Funds invested and also was used to conceal investments by the Absolute Funds in the penny stocks and to manipulate the stock market.
As the scheme unraveled, Homm abruptly resigned from the firm in the middle of the night on September 18, 2007, according to court documents.
In March 2013, Homm was taken into custody in Italy after being arrested at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Homm was arrested pursuant to a provisional arrest warrant sought by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles after they filed a criminal complaint containing charges related to the alleged fraud scheme. The United States sought Homm’s extradition to the United States and he was ordered extradited by the Italian Ministry of Justice, but Homm ultimately was released and is believed to have fled to Germany, where he remains a fugitive.
Colin Heatherington is in Canada and facing extradition to the United States.
United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips has scheduled an October 7 sentencing hearing for Ficeto. Each charge of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and securities fraud carry a statutory maximum penalty of 25 years in federal prison. The money laundering charges each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison. Each charge of investment adviser fraud, obstruction of justice, and false statements carry a maximum statutory penalty of five years in federal prison.
This matter was investigated by Federal Bureau of Investigation. The United States Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Financial and Regulatory Authority provided assistance to the FBI’s investigation.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Cassie D. Palmer of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, Scott Paetty of the Major Frauds Section, and Ian V. Yanniello of the General Crimes Section.