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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Central District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Santa Barbara Man Sentenced to Over 11 Years in Federal Prison for $14 Million Ponzi Scheme, Tax Evasion, ID Theft and Other Felonies

          LOS ANGELES – A Santa Barbara man was sentenced today to 133 months in federal prison for stealing approximately $14 million from victims who thought their investments would be used to purchase annuities issued by Swiss insurance companies and for failing to pay over $3 million in federal income tax.

          Darrell Arnold Aviss, 64, was sentenced by United States District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr., who also ordered him to pay $ 14,486,169 in restitution and to forfeit his interest in a Santa Barbara home worth approximately $4 million.

          At today’s court hearing, Judge Blumenfeld, who remanded Aviss into federal custody, described Aviss as “cruel, callous and self-absorbed” and adding, “the devastation in this case is real.”

          On June 28, Aviss pleaded guilty to 21 felonies: five counts of wire fraud, one count of money laundering, five counts of engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property over $10,000, three counts of tax evasion, six counts of willful failure to report foreign bank and financial accounts, and one count of aggravated identity theft.

          Aviss ran his Ponzi scheme from at least 2012 through the summer of 2020, soliciting money from people who wanted to purchase annuities from insurance companies based in Switzerland. Aviss claimed the Swiss annuities he offered were safe and secure, and, in some instances, he told victims the annuities would pay interest rates ranging from 5% to 7%.

          But Aviss did not use the victims’ money to purchase annuities, even though he arranged for the victims to receive fabricated statements showing the purported value of the annuities, which the false documents showed were increasing over time.

          Victims, most of whom were over the age of 60, gave Aviss more than $14 million, with most of that money coming from just one victim. Some money was paid back to victims to keep the scheme running.

          Instead of purchasing annuities, Aviss used the victims’ money for his own purposes and to support his lavish lifestyle. He used the money for, among other things, Ponzi payments to victims, mortgage payments, luxury car leases, expensive watches, trips to Monaco, more than $170,000 in purchases at a Santa Barbara nightclub, and 20 tickets to a U2 concert and after-party.

          One victim lost more than $9.7 million in Aviss’ Ponzi scheme. Aviss stole $400,000 from another victim whom he knew recently had been diagnosed with cancer, according to the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum.

          “Aviss has essentially been living a life of pure crime for about a decade,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “Based on the financial records and his statements to the probation officer, Aviss has had no source of money – no real job – since at least 2012, apart from the money he stole from the victims, including retirees who denied themselves luxuries to save up the nest eggs Aviss stole.”

          Aviss also defrauded the United States by failing to file tax returns for 2014, 2015 and 2016 and failing to pay any income taxes for those years. Aviss evaded paying more than $3 million in income taxes.

          Aviss also failed to file with the Department of the Treasury Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts for the years 2015 through 2020 in an attempt to conceal accounts he controlled in Monaco, where he deposited some of his ill-gotten gains. He transferred victims’ money to these offshore accounts, one of which was established with information from an identity theft victim.

          The FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation conducted the investigation in this matter.

          Assistant United States Attorneys Monica E. Tait and Ali Moghaddas of the Major Frauds Section prosecuted this case. Assistant United States Attorney Daniel G. Boyle of the Asset Forfeiture and Recovery Section is handling asset forfeiture matters in this case.

          If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is available at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This Department of Justice hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim and identifying relevant next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies, and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis. Reporting is the first step. Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud, and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses. The hotline is staffed seven days a week from 3 a.m. to 8 p.m. PT. English, Spanish, and other languages are available.

          Information about the Department of Justice’s Elder Fraud Initiative is available at www.justice.gov/elderjustice.

Topic(s): 
Elder Justice
Tax
Financial Fraud
Contact: 
Ciaran McEvoy Public Information Officer ciaran.mcevoy@usdoj.gov (213) 894-4465
Press Release Number: 
22-213
Updated October 11, 2022