Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Charges Against Purported Investment Adviser
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that STEVEN WESSEL, a/k/a “Wes Wessels,” was arrested this morning on securities fraud and wire fraud charges. WESSEL is expected to be presented today in Manhattan federal court before United States Magistrate Judge Michael H. Dolinger.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As charged, Steven Wessel was much less an investment adviser than a serial liar. He allegedly lied in telling one investor that his funds would be invested in securities, and then lied in soliciting money from a second investor to pay back the first.”
According to the two-count Complaint unsealed in Manhattan federal court:
From at least June 2013 through April 2014, WESSEL ran a fraudulent investment scheme. WESSEL, who claimed to be the Chairman and Executive Managing Member of Steeplechase USA, LLC (“Steeplechase USA”), located in New York, New York, represented to an investor (“Investor A”) that Steeplechase USA was in the business of trading securities. WESSEL personally solicited $200,000 from Investor A on the understanding that the funds would be solely invested in securities.
Contrary to WESSEL’s promise to invest Investor A’s funds in securities, WESSEL used substantially all of Investor A’s money for his own personal benefit, including for cash withdrawals and personal expenses, including making a payment of $25,000 toward a restitution obligation from a prior judgment of conviction. WESSEL did not tell Investor A about this misappropriation. Instead, WESSEL falsely represented to Investor A that his $200,000 investment had gained tens of thousands of dollars and that Steeplechase USA’s portfolio had gained approximately 167% in 2013.
When Investor A requested to withdraw his funds from Steeplechase USA, WESSEL solicited a $550,000 loan from a second investor (“Investor B”). WESSEL falsely represented that he would use Investor B’s money to provide financing for a commercial real estate project. To induce Investor B to lend him money, WESSEL, among other things, created and sent a fabricated email to Investor B. The fabricated email purported to be from a bank and made it appear as if the real estate project was legitimate.
Contrary to WESSEL’s promise to Investor B, WESSEL used substantially all of Investor B’s money for his own benefit, including to pay $251,000 to Investor A – money that, according to WESSEL, represented Investor A’s initial $200,000 investment and $51,000 in trading profits.
WESSEL is charged with one count of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud. The securities fraud count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000,000. The wire fraud count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. The statutory maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant would be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the work of the Criminal Investigators of the United States Attorney’s Office, who investigated this case.
Today’s announcement is part of efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) which was created in November 2009 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’s 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 the inception of FFETF in November 2009, the Justice Department has filed more than 12,841 financial fraud cases against nearly 18,737 defendants including nearly 3,500 mortgage fraud defendants. For more information on the task force, visit www.stopfraud.gov.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorney Damian Williams is in charge of the prosecution.
The allegations contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.