Santa Barbara Man Who Allegedly Ran $12 Million Ponzi Scheme Indicted on Federal Fraud and Money Laundering Charges
LOS ANGELES – A federal grand jury today returned an 11-count indictment that alleges a Santa Barbara man stole approximately $12 million from victims who were promised their money would be used to purchase annuities from Swiss insurance companies.
Darrell Arnold Aviss, 63, of Santa Barbara, was charged today with five counts of wire fraud and six counts of money laundering. Aviss was arrested June 18 pursuant to a criminal complaint, and he was subsequently ordered held without bond.
According to the indictment filed this afternoon in United States District Court, Aviss ran the scheme from at least 2012 through last summer, 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 allegedly told victims the annuities would pay interest rates ranging from 5 to 7 percent.
But, the indictment alleges, Aviss did not use the victims’ money to purchase annuities, even though he arranged for the victims to receive 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 $12 million, with most of that money coming from just one victim, according to court documents. Some money was paid back to victims to keep the scheme running.
Instead of purchasing annuities, Aviss allegedly used the victims’ money for his own purposes and to support his lavish lifestyle. Court documents indicate that he used the money for, among other things, Ponzi payments to victims, mortgage payments, luxury car leases, expensive watches, trips to Monaco, more than $100,000 in purchases at a Santa Barbara nightclub, and 20 tickets to a U2 concert and after-party.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Aviss is scheduled to be arraigned in this case on July 9.
The indictment charges Aviss with five counts of wire fraud, each of which carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison; one count of concealment money laundering, which has a maximum sentence of 20 years; and five counts of laundering criminal proceeds in excess of $10,000, each of which carries a potential sentence of 10 years.
The FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation are conducting the investigation in this matter.
Assistant United States Attorney Monica E. Tait of the Major Frauds Section is prosecuting this case.
If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This U.S. 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 from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. In addition to English, Spanish and other languages are available to callers.