SEC Freezes Assets of Illinois-Based Hedge Fund Manager Who Was $2 Billion Feeder to Petters Ponzi Scheme
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C., July 10, 2009 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced fraud charges and an asset freeze against a Highland Park, Ill.-based hedge fund manager and his firm for facilitating a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme operated by Minnesota businessman Thomas Petters.
The SEC's complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, alleges that Gregory Bell and Lancelot Management LLC invested more than $2 billion in hedge funds assets with Petters and pocketed millions of dollars in fraudulent fees at the expense of investors in the funds. The SEC's complaint also charges Petters with fraud for perpetrating the massive Ponzi scheme through the sale of notes related to consumer electronics. When Petters's scheme began to unravel, Bell participated in a series of sham transactions to conceal that Petters owed more than $130 million in investor payments on the notes.
Bell, Lancelot Management, and the hedge funds they manage have never been registered with the SEC or any other regulatory agency.
"Greg Bell portrayed himself as a helping hand to investors — avidly protecting their funds and verifying the legitimacy of Petters's business. But behind their backs, he was handing over billions of dollars of his clients' money to feed a fraud," said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement.
"Bell lied to investors to induce them to hand over their money, and then hung them out to dry while millions of dollars in fees continued to flow into his own pockets," said Merri Jo Gillette, Director of the SEC's Chicago Regional Office. "Our enforcement action seeks the return of fraudulently collected fees to defrauded investors."
At the SEC's request for emergency relief for investors, the Hon. Ann D. Montgomery, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, issued a court order freezing all assets of Bell and Lancelot Management as well as relief defendants, including Bell's wife Inna Goldman. Among other things, the court order requires that they repatriate all overseas assets to the United States. Petters was previously charged by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota in early October 2008, and his assets were frozen at that time. He is in custody awaiting trial.
According to the SEC's complaint, Petters carried out his Ponzi scheme from as early as 1995 through September 2008, promising investors that proceeds from the notes they were sold would be used to finance the purchase of vast amounts of consumer electronics by vendors who then re-sold the merchandise to "Big Box" retailers including such well-known chains as Wal-Mart and Costco. Instead, the "purchase order inventory financing" business was a complete sham, and the vendors secretly returned most investor money back to Petters, who diverted billions of dollars for his own purposes.
The SEC alleges that Petters sold the notes to several feeder funds that in turn raised their investment capital from hundreds of private investors in the U.S. and abroad. Beginning in 2002, Bell and Lancelot Management raised approximately $2.62 billion from hundreds of investors through the sale of interests in three hedge funds they managed (Lancelot Investors Fund, L.P., Lancelot Investors Fund II, L.P., and Lancelot Investors Fund, Ltd.). The investors included individuals, retirement plans, individual retirement accounts, trusts, corporations, partnerships, and other hedge funds. Bell and Lancelot Investment used almost all of the fund assets to purchase notes offered by Petters and his companies.
The SEC's complaint alleges:
False Assurances — Bell and Lancelot Management falsely assured investors that they were taking specific steps to protect investor money and to verify the legitimacy of Petters's financing business, when in fact they did not. Bell and Lancelot Management also failed to inform investors that Petters was previously convicted of multiple crimes involving fraud and deception.
Bogus Roundtrips — Beginning around February 2008 after Petters had been delinquent for months in repaying more than $130 million of notes, Bell and Petters concocted a series of bogus "roundtrip" payments to conceal Petters's delinquencies. Bell and Lancelot Management on multiple occasions sent money directly to Petters's company under the pretense that the money was for investment in a new note. Petters, through his employees, then returned the money to Bell and Lancelot Management, typically on the same day. It was packaged as the repayment of one of the outstanding debts owed to the Lancelot hedge funds.
Wrongful Withdrawals — During the final months before the collapse of the Petters Ponzi scheme, Bell and Lancelot Management wrongfully withdrew more than $40 million from the Lancelot Funds as purported fees. Bell and Lancelot Management also transferred millions to an account he controls jointly with his wife as well as a revocable trust in his name and a revocable trust in his wife's name. Bell also transferred millions to an account in Switzerland for the benefit of a third trust.
The SEC's complaint charges Bell, Lancelot Management and Petters with violations of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. The complaint also charges Bell and Lancelot Management with violations of Sections 206(1), 206(2) and 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and Rule 206-4(8).
The SEC seeks entry of a court order of permanent injunction against Bell, Lancelot Management and Petters, as well as an order of disgorgement, including prejudgment interest and financial penalties. The SEC also seeks an order requiring the relief defendants to disgorge all ill-gotten gains and pay prejudgment interest.
The SEC's investigation is continuing.
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For more information, contact:
Merri Jo Gillette
Regional Director, SEC's Chicago Regional Office
Timothy L. Warren
Associate Regional Director, SEC's Chicago Regional Office
Peter K.M. Chan
Assistant Regional Director, SEC's Chicago Regional Office