September 2020 Ponzi Scheme Roundup

Posted by Kathy Bazoian Phelps 

Below is a summary of the activity reported for September 2020. The reported stories reflect at least 11 new Ponzi schemes worldwide, 4 guilty pleas, 31 years of prison sentences, and an average age of approximately 59 for the alleged Ponzi schemers. Please feel free to post comments about these or other Ponzi schemes that I may have missed.   

Joseph Frank Abel, 50, of California, pleaded guilty to charges in connection with a cryptocurrency mining fraud that involved at least $722 million. Abel admitted that he sold unregistered securities for BitClub Network. Matthew Brent Goettsche, Russ Albert Medlin, Jobadiah Sinclair Weeks were also charged in connection with the scheme. 

Jose Angel Aman, 51, of Florida was charged with operating a Ponzi scheme that brought in over $25 million through Natural Diamonds Investment Co. and Eagle Financial Diamond Group. Aman claimed to be developing a diamond-backed token and promised investors their fund would be used to purchase diamonds that Aman would clean, cut, and resell for profit. Aman started a new business that he ran through Argyle Coin, LLC, which planned to develop a crypto token backed by diamonds. 

Syed Arham Arbab, 23, was sentenced to 5 years in prison and ordered to pay about $500,000 in restitution in connection with a Ponzi scheme that he ran from his fraternity house while a student at the University of Georgia. Arbab defrauded more than 100 people out of about $1 million. Arbab previously pleaded guilty to running the scheme through his companies, Artis Proficio Capital Management and Artis Proficio Capital Investments.

Steven Fitzgerald Brown, 52, or California, was charged by the SEC with operating a Ponzi-like scheme through Alpha Trade Analytics Inc. The scheme raised approximately $7.5 million from more than 75 investors claiming that the fund would invest in the financial markets in foreign exchange, but the SEC alleges that less than 3% of the funds were invested. Investors were promised safe and risk-free investments and were promised returns of 8% to 12%. Brown agreed to plead guilty.

Natalie Cochran pleaded guilty to charges related to an investment fraud she ran with her late husband, Michael Cochran. The scheme was run through Tactical Solutions Group and Technology Management Systems, which were government contractors. Cochran filed bankruptcy following the fraud charges. 

Milton J. Dosal, Jr. of Colorado settled charges brought by the SEC that he ran an alleged Ponzi scheme that targeted U.S. military service members. The scheme raised $100,000 from about 41 investors and promised the investors weekly returns of 10%. Dosal did not admit or deny the allegations. 

Raymond Erker, Kevin Krantz, and Tara Brunst, of Ohio, were indicted in connection with an investment scheme that brought in more than $9.3 million from 54 investors. Investors were told that their funds would be used to buy annuities and secured notes but instead the money was either misappropriated or placed in high-risk start up companies. 

Zvi Feiner, 50, and Erez Bayer, 50, of Chicago were arrested in connection with an alleged scheme that involved a nursing residence chain through FNR Healthcare LLC. Feiner is a rabi who owned the chain with Bayer. The scheme defrauded 75 members of the Orthodox Jewish community out of more than $22 million. The SEC had filed an action against Feiner and Bayer last year.

Scott Allen Fries, of Ohio, was charged by the SEC with defrauding clients in an alleged Ponzi-like scheme. Fries recommended that his brokerage clients invest with him outside of his brokerage firm.

Golden Genesis Inc. was ordered to cease and desist by the Missouri Secretary of State. The company sold more than $9 million in unregistered, non-exempt securities in the form of promissory notes through a Las Vegas-based unregistered broker-dealer, Retire Happy LLC. The scheme defrauded more than 240 investors. Thomas Casey, Dennis Di Ricco, Cynthia Wade, were ordered to show cause why they should not be ordered to pay restitution plus interest, civil penalties and investigation costs totaling more than $1 million.

Denni M. Jali, Arley Ray Johnson and John Erasmus Frimpong, of Maryland, were indicted for running what is alleged to be a $28 million Ponzi scheme. They are accused of passing themselves off as pastors to defraud churchgoers and others through their investment scheme involving cryptocurrency and foreign-exchange trading that promised 35% returns. They ran the scheme through their company, The Smart Partners, LLC aka 1st Million, which they ran as a wealth management and financial literacy firm. They defrauded approximately 1,200 investors. The SEC and the CFTC have also filed complaints against them.

Donnie Laing, Jr., 40, was sentenced to 3 years in prison in connection with a $1 million Ponzi scheme run through Capital Energy Investments LLC. Investors were led to believe that their funds were invested in oil and gas equipment that would be leased to companies engaged in oil and gas exploration.

Andrew Dale Ledbetter, 78, was charged in connection with the 1 Global Capital LLC alleged scheme. The SEC alleged that Ledbetter, a Florida attorney, raised more than $100 million from investors in connection with the scheme.

Jose Anibal Linares, 42, of Texas, pleaded guilty to charges relating to a Ponzi scheme run through JC Loans Finance and Inversiones JC Dallas. The scheme promised monthly returns based on investments in commercial and residential real estate, including a water resort and shopping centers in Honduras.

Paul A. Rinfret, of New York, was sentenced to 63 months in prison in connection with a $19 million Ponzi scheme he ran through Plandome Partners LLC. Investors were promised returns from the supposed trading of futures contracts, but only a small amount of their money was actually invested. Rinfret had pleaded guilty to the scheme last year and was ordered to pay back $12.3 million to the six victims.

Pablo Rodriguez, Gutemberg Dos Santos, Scott Hughes, Cecilia Milan, and Jackie Aguilar were charged in connection with an alleged Ponzi scheme run through AirBit Club. The scheme is allegedly a multilevel marketing club involving cryptocurrency. 

Denise Gunderson Rust, 61, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in connection with her husband’s Ponzi scheme run through Rust Rare Coin. Rust claims that she did not know that her husband, Gaylen Rust, was running a scheme, but she did not tell anyone when she learned that her husband was not doing what he told investors he was doing. Criminal cases against Gaylen Rust and their son, Joshua Rust, are pending. 

Mark Scott was the subject of a forfeiture action brought by the Department of justice seeking to confiscate about $400 million to Scott. Scott was the attorney who helped accused OneCoin launder hundreds of millions of dollars.

Steven M. Sexton and his firm, Sexton Advisory Group Inc., settled charges brought by the SEC that they were acting as unregistered brokers when raising $4.6 million as part of the Woodbridge Group of Companies LLC Ponzi scheme.

Avinash Singh was charged by the CFTC in connection with the commodity pool known as Highrise Advantage LLC. Daniel Cologero and Randy Rosseau were also charged with fraudulently soliciting investors into the scheme through commodity pools, Green Knight Investments LLC, Bull Run Advantage, LLC, and King Royalty, LLC. The complaint also charges Suruipaul Sahdeo and SR&B Enterprises with unlawfully soliciting funds to Highrise. The scheme brought in $4.75 million.

TMTE, Inc., d/b/a, Chase Metals, LLC, Chase Metals, Inc., Barrick Capital, Inc. and its principals, Lucas Asher a/k/a Lucas Thomas Erb a/k/a Luke Asher, and Simon Batashvili were charged by the CFTC in collaboration with 30 state securities regulators with running a nationwide fraud that brought in $185 million. Tower Equity LLC is also charged as a relief defendant. All are located in California. The scheme targeted elderly victims and defrauded 1,600 investors. The defendants allegedly defrauded customers into purchasing precious metals bullion at grossly inflated prices. The overcharges averaged from 100% to more than 300% over the prevailing market price.

David Wagner, 55, the head of Downing Partners LLC, pleaded guilty to charges that he ran a Ponzi-like scheme. He solicited more than $8 million from investors and represented that Downing Partners was a venture capital firm that would invest in health care startups, in addition to providing sales, operations and management expertise to those companies.

Lewis I. Wallach was charged by the SEC with stealing $26 million in an alleged Ponzi scheme. Wallach and the deceased founder of Professional Financial Investors Inc. raised approximately $330 million from more than 1,300 investors. Criminal charges were also filed against Wallach.

David Wade Watson, 62, and Rajshree Patel, 45, of Florida, were arrested on allegations that they were running a $2.5 million Ponzi scheme. Watson told him victims that he was awaiting billions of dollars in settlements from the government and that he would pay them millions or billions of dollars for every $1,000 they invested.  



John Louis Anthony Bigatton was banned for 7 years from the securities industry due to his involvement in the BitConnect Lending Platform alleged Ponzi scheme. Bigatton was accused of being engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct in promoting Bitconnect.


Chen Shaofeng, Luu Jianghua, Lu Jianghua, Lu Qinghai, Jin Xinghai, Wang Yin, and Zhang Qin were charged in connection with the PlusToken Ponzi scheme. The scheme is a $5.8 billion cryptocurrency scheme.

Dominican Republic

Charles Paul Vincent Debono, 62, was arrested and deported to Canada where he faces charges relating to an alleged Ponzi scheme. The scheme laundered money through investments in hotels and fast food centers as well as in the purchase of luxury vehicles and real estate. Debono’s wife, Sol Esperanza Acosta Gonzalez, was also arrested. The scheme was run through a company called Debit Direct.


Joseph Lewis pleaded guilty to charges that he defrauded investors worldwide in an international investment scam. Lewis ran the scam from Turkey and told investors he was engaged in foreign exchange trading. The scheme took in about $27 million. 


Yuri Garcia Dominguez, 34, a Cuban national and his wife, Ateeka Ishmael, 32, were charged on 10 additional charges relating to an alleged Ponzi scheme run through Accelerated Capital Firm Inc.


Popular Finance was exposed as a Ponzi scheme when investors started withdrawing their money due to the pandemic and related financial stress. Thomas Daniel Roy and his wife Prabba surrendered and their daughter, Rinu Mariam Thomas, was arrested.

Taluk LC Nagaraj and Manjunath N were charged in connection with the I-Monetary Advisory Ponzi scheme case, headed by Mansoor Khan.  


Authorities identified Mining City as a Ponzi scheme and identified Gregory Rogowski, Anthony Aguilar and Jhon Rey Grey as key personnel involved in the scheme. The scheme is a bitcoin cloud mining company.


Arbicorp froze accounts of more than 120,000 investors after discovery of an error that caused one of its cryptocurrency bots to overpay. It claims that its trading bot called Community Bot paid 28% more in profits than were due. 

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