SEC Halts Pyramid Scheme Targeting Dominican and Brazilian Immigrants
The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that on Tuesday it filed charges against the Massachusetts-based operators of a large pyramid scheme that mainly targeted Dominican and Brazilian immigrants in the U.S. The charges were filed under seal, in connection with the Commission’s request for an immediate asset freeze. That asset freeze, which the U.S. District Court in Boston ordered on Wednesday, secured millions of dollars of funds and prevented the potential dissipation of investor assets. After the SEC staff implemented the asset freeze, at the SEC’s request the court lifted the seal today, permitting public announcement of the SEC’s charges.
The SEC alleges that TelexFree, Inc. and TelexFree, LLC claim to run a multilevel marketing company that sells telephone service based on “voice over Internet” (VoIP) technology but actually are operating an elaborate pyramid scheme. In addition to charging the company, the SEC charged several TelexFree officers and promoters, and named several entities related to TelexFree as relief defendants based on their receipt of investor funds.
According to the SEC’s complaint, the defendants sold securities in the form of TelexFree “memberships” that promised annual returns of 200 percent or more for those who promoted TelexFree by recruiting new members and placing TelexFree advertisements on free Internet ad sites. The SEC complaint alleges that TelexFree’s VoIP sales revenues of approximately $1.3 million from August 2012 through March 2014 are barely one percent of the more than $1.1 billion needed to cover its promised payments to its promoters. As a result, in classic pyramid scheme fashion, TelexFree is paying earlier investors, not with revenue from selling its VoIP product but with money received from newer investors.
“This is one of several pyramid-scheme cases that the SEC has filed recently where parties claim that investors can earn profits by recruiting other members or investors instead of doing any real work,” said Paul G. Levenson, director of the SEC’s Boston Regional Office. “Even after the SEC and other regulators have alleged that such programs are a fraud, the promoters of TelexFree continued selling the false promise of easy money.”
According to the SEC’s complaint, the defendants have continued enrolling new investors but recently changed TelexFree’s method of compensating promoters, requiring them to actually sell the VoIP product to qualify for payments that TelexFree had previously promised to pay them. The complaint also alleges that since December 2013, TelexFree has transferred $30 million or more of investor funds from TelexFree operating accounts to accounts controlled by TelexFree affiliates or the individual defendants.
In addition to the TelexFree firms, the complaint charges TelexFree co-owner James Merrill, of Ashland, Mass., TelexFree co-owner and treasurer Carlos Wanzeler, of Northborough, Mass., TelexFree CFO Joseph H. Craft, of Boonville, Ind., and TelexFree’s international sales director, Steve Labriola, of Northbridge, Mass. The SEC also charged four individuals who were promoters of TelexFree’s program: Sanderley Rodrigues de Vasconcelos, formerly of Revere, Mass., now of Davenport, Fla., Santiago De La Rosa, of Lynn, Mass., Randy N. Crosby, of Alpharetta, Ga., and Faith R. Sloan of Chicago. The SEC’s complaint alleges that TelexFree, Inc., TelexFree, LLC, Merrill, Wanzeler, Craft, Labriola, Rodrigues de Vasconcelos, De La Rosa, Crosby, and Sloan violated the registration and antifraud provisions of U.S. securities laws and the SEC’s antifraud rule. The SEC also charged three entities related to TelexFree as relief defendants based on their receipt of investor funds.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Scott R. Stanley, James M. Fay, Mark Albers, John McCann, Frank Huntington, and Kevin Kelcourse, all of the SEC’s Boston Regional Office.