SEC Brings Charges in Puerto Rico-Based Ponzi Scheme Targeting Evangelical Christians and Factory Workers
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a Puerto Rico resident and his company with conducting a Ponzi scheme that targeted evangelical Christians and factory workers in Puerto Rico.
The SEC alleges that Ricardo Bonilla Rojas and his firm Shadai Yire raised at least $7 million from as many as 200 investors living primarily in Puerto Rico but also on the U.S. mainland in such states as Florida, New York, and North Carolina. Rojas actively solicited investors through personal discussions with individuals both over the phone and in person, and he also marketed the investment opportunity in presentations to evangelical Christian groups and factory workers who were often inexperienced investors. Rojas falsely assured investors that their principal contributions were “100% guaranteed” and promised returns up to 50 percent, telling them he’d be investing their money in commodities. But Rojas never actually invested any money in commodities and instead used new contributions to repay earlier investors in classic Ponzi scheme fashion. He stole $700,000 for himself.
In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico today announced criminal charges against Rojas.
“Rojas targeted novice investors who were often evangelical Christians, and he touted a long history of successful trading in commodities,” said Eric I. Bustillo, Director of the SEC’s Miami Regional Office. “In reality, he was fleecing the flock.”
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, Rojas and Shadai Yire conducted the scheme from at least August 2005 to February 2009. Rojas, who resides in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and his company Shadai Yire have never been registered with the SEC to offer securities.
The SEC alleges that Rojas hired some sales agents to help him solicit investors, and paid commissions based on a percentage of the investor funds they raised. Rojas and his sales agents pitched the investment opportunity to individuals as a risk-free way to earn high returns in a short period of time. Rojas also created phony account statements that were sent to investors to hide his misuse of investor money and lead them to believe their investments were growing.
The SEC’s complaint seeks disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, financial penalties, and injunctive relief against Rojas and Shadai Yire to enjoin them from future violations of the federal securities laws.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted in the Miami Regional Office by Senior Counsel Terence M. Tennant and Accountant Karaz S. Zaki under the supervision of Assistant Regional Director Elisha L. Frank. Amie Riggle Berlin will lead the SEC’s litigation. The SEC acknowledges the assistance and cooperation of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s San Juan Division, and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.