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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, September 21, 2020

Chairman Of Venture Capital Funds Pleads Guilty In Mahhattan Federal Court To Securities And Wire Fraud

David Wagner Defrauded More than 30 Investors of $8 Million Dollars and Misappropriated Investor Funds

Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that DAVID WAGNER pled guilty to securities fraud and wire fraud in connection with his operation of a number of corporate entities (collectively referred to as “Downing”) as a Ponzi-like scheme.  WAGNER solicited over $8 million from Downing investors through materially false and misleading statements and misappropriated a significant portion of those funds, using them for, among other things, the payment of management fees, the repayment of prior investors, and personal expenses.  WAGNER pled guilty before U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein.  

Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “As he admitted in court, David Wagner conned employee-investors into handing over more than $8 million they thought would be invested in a viable operation that would generate returns.  Instead, Wagner’s business was largely a sham, and employee-investor funds went to pay Wagner’s personal expenses or pay off other investors in Ponzi-like fashion.  David Wagner now awaits sentencing for his crimes.”

According to the Indictment filed in Manhattan federal court:

From at least in or about December 2013 through at least in or about 2017, WAGNER, the chief executive officer of Downing, and Lawrence, the president of several Downing entities, solicited investments in Downing, a purported venture capital firm that would invest in healthcare start-ups referred to as “portfolio companies” and provide sales, operations, and management expertise to the portfolio companies in order to bring their products to market and generate returns for Downing investors, who also worked for Downing (the “employee-investors”).  WAGNER and Lawrence, and others acting at their direction, solicited more than approximately $8 million in investments in Downing from employee-investors located across the United States, including in the Southern District of New York, as a requirement of employment with Downing. 

After making the required investment of between $150,000 and $250,000 in Downing and starting their employment at Downing, employee-investors soon learned, among other things, that contrary to representations made by WAGNER and Lawrence, and others acting at their direction, Downing did not have access to millions of dollars in funding, often could not make payroll, had virtually no products to sell, and employee investments were the overwhelming source of funding.  Employee-investors also learned that WAGNER and Lawrence had misrepresented the companies in Downing’s portfolio, their product readiness, and ability to generate revenue.  While the particular formulation of these misrepresentations shifted over time, WAGNER and Lawrence systematically sought and obtained employee-investor money through materially false and misleading statements.

Beginning in or about May 2016, after several employee-investors had brought lawsuits against WAGNER, Lawrence, and several Downing entities alleging claims based on, among other things, fraud, WAGNER and Lawrence continued the scheme by recruiting employee-investors into a new company called Cliniflow Technologies, LLC (“Cliniflow”), through materially false and misleading statements about Cliniflow’s cash reserves, portfolio companies, and exposure to litigation.  In fact, Cliniflow purportedly held majority ownership in the same primary portfolio company as other Downing entities and was simply a new name used by WAGNER and Lawrence to solicit investments from new employee-investors that was not tainted by the lawsuits filed against Downing entities.  A majority of the over $1.5 million raised by WAGNER and Lawrence through Cliniflow was transferred to other Downing entities and used to pay for, among other things, WAGNER’s personal expenses and the repayment of prior investors.

Finally, in or about January 2017, WAGNER obtained a $400,000 loan and $100,000 grant from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (“CTDECD”) for Cliniflow on the basis of materially false statements made by WAGNER to the CTDECD.  WAGNER transferred a majority of the funds obtained from the State of Connecticut, which were required to be used for Cliniflow’s purported relocation from New York to Connecticut, to other Downing entities and also used a portion of the funds to purchase a luxury car for his daughter.

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WAGNER, 54, of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, pled guilty to two counts of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.  The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.  As part of the plea agreement with the Government, Wagner agreed to forfeit $549,000 in United States currency and pay restitution of $7,850,000 to victims of his criminal conduct.  

WAGNER will be sentenced by Judge Hellerstein on January 11, 2021, at 11:00 a.m. 

The case against co-defendant Marc Lawrence is still pending[1].  

Ms. Strauss praised the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and thanked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Enforcement Section of the Massachusetts Securities Division for their assistance. 

This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jilan J. Kamal and Sagar K. Ravi are in charge of the prosecution.  

 

[1] The charges against Marc Lawrence contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Topic(s): 
Securities, Commodities, & Investment Fraud
Contact: 
James Margolin, Nicholas Biase (212) 637-2600
Press Release Number: 
20-198
Updated September 21, 2020