Second Managing Partner Of Investment Advisory Firm Pleads Guilty To Defrauding Clients And Investors In Over $100 Million Ponzi-Like Fraud Scheme
Audrey Strauss, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that MARTIN SILVER, a managing partner and the chief operating officer of the New York-based investment advisory firm International Investment Group (“IIG”), pled guilty today before U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein to investment adviser fraud, securities fraud, and wire fraud offenses in connection with an over $100 million scheme to defraud IIG’s investment advisory fund clients and investors. Throughout the course of more than 10 years, SILVER perpetrated the scheme by, among other fraudulent actions, creating fictitious investments and overvaluing investments used to generate funds to pay off earlier investors in a Ponzi-like manner. In connection with his plea agreement, SILVER has also agreed to cooperate with the Government’s ongoing investigation.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “Today, Martin Silver admitted to participating in a sophisticated, decade-long scheme to defraud IIG funds and investors, abandoning his fiduciary responsibilities to IIG’s clients, and causing millions of dollars of losses. My Office remains committed to policing investment advisers who seek to take advantage of their clients for personal and professional gain.”
According to the allegations contained in the Information and based on statements made in Manhattan federal court:
Background of IIG
SILVER and a co-conspirator (“CC-1”) founded IIG in 1994. SILVER was a managing partner and the chief operating officer of IIG. IIG, an SEC-registered investment adviser, provided investment management and advisory services, including for three private funds that it operated: (1) the IIG Trade Opportunities Fund N.V. (“TOF”), (2) the IIG Global Trade Finance Fund, Ltd. (“GTFF”), and (3) the IIG Structured Trade Finance Fund, Ltd. (“STFF”). IIG also advised the Venezuela Recovery Fund (“VRF”), a fund that managed the remaining assets of a failed Venezuelan bank (VRF, together with TOF, GTFF, and STFF, the “IIG Funds”). In March 2018, IIG reported to the SEC that it had approximately $373 million in assets under management.
IIG advertised itself as specializing in global trade financing, particularly in providing trade finance loans to small and medium-sized businesses. IIG’s principal investment advisory strategy, including with respect to the IIG Funds, was investing in trade finance loans that it also originated. Trade finance loans are used by small and medium-sized companies, typically exporters and importers, to facilitate international trade. IIG’s purported expertise was in trade finance loans to borrowers located in Central or South America, and in a variety of industries, with a stated focus on “soft commodities,” such as coffee, agriculture, fishing, and other food products. IIG’s trade finance loans were purportedly secured by collateral, such as the underlying traded goods, assets held by the borrowers, or expected payments by third parties.
Investments in TOF, STFF, and GTFF were marketed by IIG to institutional investors, such as pension funds, hedge funds, and insurers. In offering memoranda and communications with investors, IIG advertised strict risk controls, such as promises to use diligence to carefully select borrowers or issuers with trusted management and marketable assets, and portfolio concentration limits based on borrower, developing country, and industry.
IIG purported to value the trade finance loans in the IIG Funds on a regular basis. IIG and, in turn, SILVER, received a performance fee with respect to the IIG Funds, as well as a management fee, which was calculated as a percentage of the assets under management held in the Funds.
From approximately 2007 to 2019, SILVER conspired to defraud investors in IIG-managed funds by: (i) overvaluing distressed loans held by the IIG Funds, (ii) falsifying paperwork to create a series of fake loans that were classified, fraudulently, as positively performing loans, and to otherwise hide losses, (iii) selling overvalued and fake loans to a collateralized loan obligation trust and new private funds established and advised by IIG, and (iv) using the proceeds from those fraudulent sales to generate liquidity required to pay off earlier investors in a Ponzi-like manner.
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MARTIN SILVER, 63, of New Jersey, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit investment adviser fraud, securities fraud, and wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of securities fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Sentencing before Judge Hellerstein has been scheduled for November 16, 2021, at 11:00 a.m.
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.
Ms. Strauss praised the investigative work of the FBI and also thanked the SEC for its assistance.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Drew Skinner, Negar Tekeei, and Alex Rossmiller are in charge of the prosecution.