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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, January 11, 2021

Chairman Of Venture Capital Funds Sentenced To Six Years For Securities And Wire Fraud In Manhattan Federal Court

Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that DAVID WAGNER was sentenced in Manhattan federal court to 72 months in prison for 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 almost $10 million from approximately 40 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 previously pled guilty to these charges, and was sentenced today before U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein.   

Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “The employee-investors of the Downing entities entrusted David Wagner, Chairman and CEO, to provide various means of support to their ‘portfolio companies,’ designed to bring those companies to market and ultimately result in a return on their investments.  Not only did Wagner not provide the financial support and expertise implicit in his sales pitch, he misspent those funds – which were largely from the investors themselves – for personal expenses, such a Porsche for himself and a BMW for his daughter. Wagner’s web of lies has finally caught up to him, and he has now been sentenced to six years in federal prison for bilking almost $10 million from investors.”

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 co-defendant Marc 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 almost $10 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 that 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.  WAGNER also misappropriated a significant portion of investor funds by using them for, among other things, personal expenses, including the purchase of a Porsche.

Beginning in or about May 2016, after several employee-investors had brought lawsuits against WAGNER and 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 BMW 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, which each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.  In addition to the prison term, Judge Hellerstein ordered WAGNER to serve three years of supervised release, and to pay forfeiture in the amount of $549,000 and restitution in the amount of at least $7,850,000 to victims of his criminal conduct.  WAGNER’s co-defendant, Marc Lawrence, is scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Hellerstein on February 1, 2021 at 2:30 p.m.

Ms. Strauss praised the work of the FBI, and thanked the United States 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.  

Topic(s): 
Financial Fraud
Contact: 
Nicholas Biase, James Margolin (212) 637-2600
Press Release Number: 
21-003
Updated January 12, 2021