Andrew Caspersen Pleads Guilty In Manhattan Federal Court To Defrauding Investors Of Over $38 Million And Misappropriating Over $8 Million From His Former Employer
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that ANDREW CASPERSEN pled guilty to defrauding investors of over $38 million and misappropriating over $8 million from his former employer. CASPERSEN pled guilty to one count of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud before U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated: “Andrew Caspersen’s guilty plea today closes a sad chapter in a tale of deception and betrayal. Parlaying his privileged background, Caspersen concocted a wild fraud scheme that involved made-up private equity ventures, fake email addresses, and fictional financiers. Through a litany of lies, Caspersen took millions from unwitting investors, including some of his own family and friends.”
According to allegations contained in the Information filed against CASPERSEN and statements made in related court filings and proceedings:
The Scheme to Defraud Investors
Beginning in November 2014 and continuing until his arrest in March 2016, CASPERSEN engaged in a Ponzi-like scheme to defraud investors, including his close friends, family members, and college classmates, by falsely claiming that their funds would be used to make secured loans to private equity firms and would thereby earn an annual rate of return of 15 to 20 percent. In total, CASPERSEN attempted to defraud more than a dozen investors of nearly $150 million. As a result of the false and fraudulent representations made by CASPERSEN, investors wired a total of approximately $38.5 million to shell company bank accounts controlled by CASPERSEN. In truth and in fact, CASPERSEN never used investor funds to make the secured loans that had been promised. Instead, CASPESEN used investor funds for purposes that investors had not authorized, including to make securities trades in his own brokerage account and to make periodic interest payments to earlier investors.
In order to carry out his scheme to defraud investors, CASPERSEN incorporated entities with names closely resembling those of legitimate private equity funds (the “Legitimate Funds”). However, the entities incorporated by CASPERSEN (the “Fake Funds”) were merely shell companies created by CASPERSEN solely for the purpose of perpetrating his fraud scheme, and were in no way affiliated with or authorized by the Legitimate Funds. CASPERSEN opened and controlled bank accounts for each of the Fake Funds (the “Fake Fund Accounts”).
In soliciting investments in the Fake Funds, CASPERSEN made the following false representations to investors, among others: in recognition for his prior work with Park Hill Group, CASPERSEN had been offered a “friends and family” investment allocation in a security that was allegedly offered by a private equity firm; CASPERSEN was personally investing in the security, and offering it to his family and a limited number of friends; the investment was a credit facility secured by a portfolio of assets owned by one of the Legitimate Funds; the investor would receive quarterly interest payments, ranging from 15 to 20 percent; the investment was practically risk-free, as the loaned funds would remain in a bank account; the investor could withdraw the principal at any time with 90 days’ notice; and investor funds should be wired to one of the Fake Fund Accounts. The purported involvement of the Legitimate Funds was an attractive selling point for investors.
As the scheme evolved, CASPERSEN also made additional misrepresentations in soliciting investors in connection with a purported investment opportunity in one of the Fake Funds CASPERSEN had created (“Fake Firm-5 Fund”) to resemble one of the Legitimate Funds (“Firm-5 Fund”). CASPERSEN had been employed at a multinational firm as an investment principal from 2003 through 2012 (“Firm-1”). According to CASPERSEN’s false statements to investors, Firm-1 wanted to purchase secondary ownership interests in Firm-5 Fund. Due to uncertainty that Firm-1 could buy out all the original investors, Park Hill Group offered to make a loan to Firm-1, and Firm-1 agreed to take a loan from Park Hill Group. CASPERSEN and Park Hill Group were working on behalf of Firm-1 to solicit investors for the loan, but, at some point after Firm-1 agreed to take the loan, it transpired that Firm-1 did not need the loan in order to purchase the secondary private equity interests. However, because Firm-1 had already agreed to the loan, Firm-1 was obligated to pay interest on the loan. CASPERSEN told potential investors that the loan was risk-free, as it was collateralized by the assets of Firm-1. As with the earlier solicitations in the Fake Funds, investors were similarly misled by the purported involvement of the legitimate Firm-5 Fund in this investment.
To carry out the scheme, CASPERSEN registered a domain name and created a fake email address to make it appear that a “John Nelson” from Firm-1 was communicating with investors. CASPERSEN obtained recent quarterly and annual reports for the Legitimate Funds, and sent such reports to prospective investors to induce them into believing that their investments would be secured by the assets of the Legitimate Funds, when in fact they were not. CASPERSEN also drafted promissory notes between investors and the Fake Funds, in which CASPERSEN made one or more of the following misrepresentations, among others: the Fake Fund would pay the investor his or her principal “in immediately available funds” together with interest on the unpaid principal; the interest on the outstanding unpaid balance would accrue at an annual rate of 15 to 20 percent; interest would be paid quarterly; upon 90 days’ notice to the Fake Fund, the investor may redeem his or her principal; and the Fake Fund “shall maintain cash or cash equivalents in an amount equal to or greater than” the total of the outstanding principal and accrued but unpaid interest.
In connection with the scheme, CASPERSEN received approximately 18 payments, in a total amount of approximately $38.5 million, from more than 10 individuals and entities for investments in the Fake Funds. Notwithstanding CASPERSEN’s statements to the contrary, CASPERSEN never used any investor funds to make any loan to any entity, or otherwise invest in any fund or investment vehicle associated with any private equity fund. Rather, CASPERSEN operated a Ponzi-like scheme in which he misappropriated investor funds from the Fake Fund Accounts and converted them to his own use and use by others, including by using investor funds to meet CASPERSEN’s periodic interest payment commitments to earlier investors. CASPERSEN transferred the funds he received from investors into his personal brokerage accounts, and used the funds to execute securities trades for his own benefit. Specifically, CASPERSEN traded heavily in options, including options based on the Standard & Poor’s Depository Receipts S&P 500, an exchange-traded fund based on the S&P 500 with ticker symbol “SPY,” and options based on PowerShares QQQ, an exchange-traded fund based on the Nasdaq 100 Index. For example, CASPERSEN’s trades of SPY options with November 2015 expiration dates caused approximately $14.5 million in losses. By mid-February 2016, as a result of CASPERSEN’s trading activity, his brokerage account contained approximately $112.8 million in cash, an amount which would have been more than sufficient for CASPSERSEN to repay all of his investors. Rather than repay his investors, however, CASPERSEN continued trading in options based on the performance of the S&P 500 Index. From February 11, 2016, through March 9, 2016, CASPERSEN lost approximately $108.2 million in options trading.
The Scheme to Divert Funds from the Park Hill Group
From January 2013 through March 2016, CASPERSEN was employed in the secondary advisory group at Park Hill Group. In July 2015, CASPERSEN opened a bank account under the name “PHG Operating LLC,” which was controlled by CASPERSEN for his own benefit and was unknown to Park Hill Group (the “Fake PHG Account”).
In September 2015, following instructions provided by CASPERSEN, Firm-5 sent a wire transfer in the amount of $8,137,453, representing payment for legitimate work that Park Hill Group had done, to the Fake PHG Account, believing it to be a legitimate account used by Park Hill Group. On or about the same day, CASPERSEN transferred $8 million from the Fake PHG Account to his brokerage account, in order to execute trades in securities for his own benefit, largely in SPY options. In November 2015, CASPERSEN transferred approximately $8.1 million to an account belonging to Park Hill Group, thereby replacing the payment from Firm-5 that he had misappropriated. The $8.1 million transfer was traceable to funds that CASPERSEN had obtained by defrauding investors as described above. Also in the fall of 2015, CASPERSEN engaged in a similar fraud with respect to a $762,267 payment that he misappropriated from Park Hill Group, and later repaid using the proceeds of his securities fraud scheme.
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CASPERSEN, 39, pled guilty to one count of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud. Each count carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison. The maximum fine on these counts is $5 million, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
CASPERSEN’s sentencing is scheduled for November 2, 2016.
Mr. Bharara praised the work of the Office’s criminal investigators, and thanked the Securities and Exchange Commission for its assistance.
The charges were brought in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices, and state and local partners, it is the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets; and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Since fiscal year 2009, the Justice Department has filed over 18,000 financial fraud cases against more than 25,000 defendants. For more information on the task force, please visit www.StopFraud.gov.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine I. Magdo is in charge of the prosecution.