Ponzi Scheme Nets Federal Prison Sentence, Probation for Berjac Company Leaders
EUGENE, Ore. – On Tuesday, February 27, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. McShane sentenced two former executives and two former employees of Berjac of Oregon for their roles in a multi-year Ponzi scheme impacting more than 400 investors.
Brothers Michael S. Holcomb, 74, and Gary L. Holcomb, 72, both of Junction City, Oregon, were sentenced to 72 months in federal prison followed by three-year terms of supervised release. Michael Holcomb’s daughters, Jennifer L. Chalmers, 46, of Eugene, and Kristen S. Van Breeman, 44, of Happy Valley, Oregon, each received five years’ probation and 250 hours of community service.
“The Holcomb brothers and their heirs apparent victimized hundreds of innocent Oregonians while perpetrating Lane County’s largest-ever Ponzi scheme. These defendants robbed investors of not only their hard-earned money, but also the months and years spent diligently investing for college, retirement and other financial goals,” said Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon. “It is unlikely these victims will ever be made whole.”
“For years, the owners of the Berjac of Oregon and Berjac of Portland firms treated their clients like personal ATM's, using a Ponzi scheme to fund millions in risky real estate deals, vacations and personal expenses. When the scheme finally came crashing down, more than 400 victims discovered the promised rewards were nothing more than lies. Many lost their life savings to the defendants' greed and dishonesty,” said Renn Cannon, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon.
According to court documents, between 2008 and 2012, Michael and Gary Holcomb were the principal managing partners of Berjac, an insurance premium financing business based in Eugene and Portland, Oregon. During this time, the pair solicited investments purportedly used to finance loans to small businesses to pay for those businesses’ insurance premiums. Investors were promised between five and seven percent returns. Michael and Gary Holcomb went to extraordinary lengths to conceal the misdirection of investor funds and the underperformance of investments. They used their clients’ money to invest in speculative real estate projects, to fund generous lifestyles, and to satisfy other personal financial obligations.
Chalmers and Van Breeman worked as office managers at Berjac of Oregon, in Eugene, and Berjac of Portland, respectively. Both managed the day-to-day operations of the business and intended to one day assume ownership of the firm before it collapsed in August 2012.
On September 15, 2017, all four defendants pleaded guilty in federal court pursuant to plea agreements. Michael and Gary Holcomb each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and to one count of money laundering. Chalmers and Van Breeman each pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering.
This case was investigated by the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation and prosecuted by Scott E. Bradford and Gavin W. Bruce, Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the District of Oregon.