Florida Asset Manager Pleads Guilty To Investment Fraud Conspiracy
Tampa, Florida – Acting United States Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow announces that Steven Zoernack (55, Sarasota) today pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, and mandatory restitution to his victims in the amount of $2,890,518.54.
According to the plea agreement, Zoernack owned and operated an investment advisory firm, EquityStar Capital Management LLC (“EquityStar”), through which he formed and managed multiple hedge funds, including the Petroleum Black Energy Fund, the Global Partners Fund, and the Momentum Growth Fund. Beginning in August 2012, Zoernack and his co-conspirators marketed these funds to accredited investors across the United States and Canada from offices in Sarasota and Newport Beach, California. They raised more than $6 million through their solicitations.
In marketing the funds, Zoernack failed to disclose numerous material facts about his background and the funds he was managing. Specifically, he failed to disclose that he had been convicted on federal wire fraud charges in 2007; had previously filed for bankruptcy; had a history of tax liens and adverse money judgments; and still owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution to past fraud victims. In fact, Zoernack actively sought to conceal his past by misappropriating fund assets to pay an online reputation manager to manipulate Internet search engine results about him to prevent potential investors from learning of his past. He also routinely lied about his educational background, his expertise as an investment manager, and his experience in the financial industry. Similarly, Zoernack lied about the educational backgrounds and professional experience of his employees, as well as the size of the firm’s staff. He repeatedly impersonated former EquityStar employees and corresponded with investors online using fictitious names and phony email accounts. In addition, he lied to potential investors about his portfolio’s ratings, profits, market returns, and losses.
After obtaining investor contributions, Zoernack begin misappropriating fund assets for his personal use. Specifically, he made monthly withdrawals of unauthorized “salaries” and “bonuses” in amounts ranging from $12,000 to $25,000 and used these and other fund assets to pay for personal and non-business related expenses, none of which were disclosed to investors. In total, through a combination of trading losses and the misappropriation of fund assets, Zoernack lost millions of dollars of investors’ money.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, alongside a parallel civil enforcement action brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Eric K. Gerard.