SEC Shuts Down San Diego-Based Real Estate Investment Fraud
The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced an asset freeze against a San Diego-based firm and its owner accused of running a real estate investment fraud that raised approximately $50 million from hundreds of investors nationwide.
The SEC alleges that Western Financial Planning Corporation and Louis V. Schooler sold units in partnerships that Western had organized to buy vacant land in Nevada and hold for sale at a profit at a later date. Schooler and Western failed to tell investors that they were paying an exorbitant mark-up on the land, in some cases more than five times its fair market value. Schooler and Western also failed to tell investors that the land held by the partnerships was often encumbered by mortgages that Western used to help finance the initial purchase of the land.
“Schooler conned hundreds of people into investing with Western by leading them to believe that they were getting a good value for plots of vacant land,” said Michele Wein Layne, Director of the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office. “What he didn’t tell them was that the land was worth only a small fraction of their investment and that he was profiting at their expense.”
The SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in San Diego alleges that Western and Schooler misled investors since 2007 by providing them with comparative prices or “comps” of supposedly similar plots of land that had sold for prices higher than those offered by Western. In reality, the real estate comps that Schooler and Western provided were in no way comparable to the land sold by Western. The SEC also alleges that since the spring of 2011, Schooler paid “hush money” to silence investors who discovered they had been defrauded, allowing the scheme to continue.
The Honorable Larry A. Burns for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California yesterday granted the SEC’s request for a temporary restraining order and asset freeze against Schooler, Western, and all entities under Western’s control, and appointed Thomas C. Hebrank as a temporary receiver over Western and the entities. Judge Burns has scheduled a court hearing for Sept. 17, 2012, on the SEC’s motion for a preliminary injunction.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Sara Kalin and Carol Shau of the Los Angeles Regional Office. Molly White will lead the SEC’s litigation. Ron Warton, Andy Ganguly, Michelle Royston, and Karol Pollack conducted the SEC examination that prompted the investigation.