California Couple Charged with Wire Fraud and Money Laundering in $7 Million Ponzi Scheme
NEWARK, N.J. – A California couple was arrested today on charges of operating a $7 million advance fee Ponzi scheme, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Jason M. Torres, 41, and Jordana Weber, 30, of Lake Tahoe, California, are charged by complaint with one count of wire fraud conspiracy and one count of money laundering. They are scheduled to appear today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes in Sacramento, California, federal court.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Between April 2017 and the present, Torres, Weber, and others owned and operated several shell companies – one of which employed individuals who lived in New Jersey and performed work while in New Jersey – that falsely purported to offer lending services to customers, typically small business owners seeking high value loans, often in excess of $100 million. As part of the scheme, Torres, Weber and others required customers to pay up to 5 percent of a potential total loan amount as a “fee” prior to the loan being funded.
After the victim’s “fee” was paid, the defendants and others would engage in a fake “due diligence” period, during which they frequently gave victims bogus explanations for why the funding of their loan was delayed. It was also common to provide the victims with falsified or fraudulent documents, including bank statements that purported to show that the shell companies had sufficient money to fund the loan.
Torres, Weber, and others used the “fees” paid by the victims for their daily living expenses, as well as for numerous lavish purchases, which included several luxury vehicles, high priced artwork, and vacations. The “fees” were also used to pay back previous victims of the fraud, in the manner of a traditional Ponzi scheme. To date, approximately six victims have been identified with a total of $7 million being transferred to bank accounts controlled by Torres, Weber, and others.
The wire fraud charge carries a statutory maximum of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The money laundering charge carries a statutory maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of not more than $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved, whichever is greater.
U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie in Newark, with the investigation leading to the charge.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Torntore of the U.S. Attorney’s Cybercrimes Unit in Newark.
The charges and allegations in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.