International Finance & Trust A Current Investigation By:
Bill E. Branscum
Returning visitors - Be sure and review the important update(s) below.
Note that in January 2011, Julie Holden was named in a Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act [RICO] lawsuit along with Ruth Liverpool.
UPDATE: The United States Secret Service has asked that I publish the following:
If you are a victim of Assured Capital Consultants or IF&T and have not previously spoken with United States Secret Service Special Agent Shelley Kolarczyk, please contact her at 407-426-5908.
Those of you who investigate international schemes to defraud may have encountered some of the principals involved in a current case we are working on. By all appearances, these people have been active in various places, domestically and internationally, for some time. I would appreciate a call from anyone who finds themselves investigating these fraudsters.
International Finance and Trust, LLC is a Florida limited liability company established May 19, 2009. According to the Articles of Organization, the original Managing Members were; Julie Holden and Kurt Hamilton, but the Amended Articles of Organization filed a couple of months later on August 5, 2009, reflect that the Managing Members were Julie Holden, Bryan Smith, Kurt Hamilton and Matthew Jarvis. The amendment requests that they be replaced. The new Managing Member is identified as International Finance and Trust, Limited, a company established under the laws of New Zealand.
According to the New Zealand Company Report, International Finance and Trust, Limited was established in New Zealand on April 28, 2009, by Julie Holden of 1207 W. 650 S., Lehi, Utah, 84043, who is listed as the Director and sole shareholder. Investigation reveals that Julie Kaye Holden was a Utah licensed insurance broker. According to the related Stipulation and Order, her license was revoked on May 27, 2009, due to her criminal history related to passing bad checks and the fact that her Mortgage Lenders Agents License had been placed on two year probation.
The victims in my case report that they first dealt primarily with Bryan Smith who, for reasons that are not clear, recently faded into the woodwork to be replaced by Julie Holden as their day-to-day contact. It has been reported, to the point that it appears to be almost "common knowledge" that the true Principal behind IFT is Jenifer (spelled with one "n") Hoffman of Clermont, Florida.
That would seem to make sense. It is inconsistent with my experience, and a bit hard to imagine, that Julie Holden could have matriculated from passing bad checks in Utah, to masterminding an international scheme to defraud.
On the other hand, whomever is behind this evidently believes that the fact that a New Zealand company is the Managing Member of the domestic Limited Liability Company means that the laws of New Zealand control - as if that would help them if it did. If any of you find yourselves working a securities case in New Zealand, you will find that their securities laws mirror our own.
Even more absurd, IFT requires that their victims sign a Non-Solicitation Letter where they mutually agree that these activities are exempt from the Securities Act, and involve no offer to buy or sell securities. Every hooker with a web site has a similar disclaimer, where potential patrons agree that the naked lady telling you how much her services are going to cost is not making an offer of prostitution.
Whether dealing with the SEC or the Vice Squad, the knuckleheads who contrive this self-serving drivel typically find one to be about as effective as the other.
Still, I would expect to find someone "behind the curtain," and Jenifer Hoffman certainly appears to be a viable candidate. Investigation reveals that Jenifer Hoffman is currently being sued as a Principal related to her involvement in the Assured Capital Consultants investment scheme. The case, 2009-CV-01839 is filed in the Middle District of Florida. According to the Stipulated Final Judgment, the defendants owe the plaintiffs $5.5 million dollars.
The scam itself is fairly routine. IFT, acting thru various promoters, is reported to have offered potential investors a return on investment of 50% per month. Most of the investors I have interviewed thus far report that their "deals" were brokered by Howard "Lee" McCauley an "Independent Consultant" from Clearwater, Florida, who is associated with Mainsail Business Consultants.
It's a small world. As it happens, I was involved in the case several years ago where Howard Lee McCauley became a convicted felon. McCauley was charged with tax evasion, case 2004-CR-464, Middle District of Florida. According to his Sentencing Report, on February 3, 2006, McCauley was sentenced to serve fifteen (15) months in prison followed by thirty-six (36) months supervised release.
McCauley may have been acting as an unlicensed broker, actively involved in the promotion of an unregistered security, while on supervised release.
For any fraud investigator, the offering of a 50% per month return on investment is prima facie evidence of a Ponzi scheme, although I am not sure that characterization would be accurate since there is no evidence that the IFT Principals ever intended to pay yesterday's investors with today's investor's funds - in this case, nobody I have interviewed was paid at all.
The defrauded investors are, however, not without salvation. Ronald L. Poorman, identifying himself as a "Disgruntled investor," has sallied forth into the fray, a veritable white knight whose "people" are verifying the representations made by Julie Holden, and dealing directly with her, the "Principal" and the "Paymaster" involved.
How many times have we seen that tired gambit . . . some shill says to the fraud victims, "Don't worry, boys and girls, just stand by. I am a disgruntled investor too, and I am actively and aggressively looking out for all our interests." What better way to cause victims to stand by and do nothing?
Those of you who didn't just fall off the turnip truck will be no more surprised than I was to learn that Ronald L. Poorman is currently being sued as a Principal, along with fellow Principal Bryan Smith, related to their involvement in the World Equity Partners, Inc., investment scheme. The case, 2010-CV-172 is filed and currently active in the Western District of Texas.
Even as we speak, Julie Holden continues to publish encouraging "updates" to the various investors, promising everyone that funds are on the way, assuring all and sundry that Ronald Poorman's people are monitoring everything going on, and warning investors that those who have threatened litigation may delay the process - the self same circle jerk nonsense that we see in all these cases.
In addition to the foregoing investment fraud scheme, we have had reports that IFT also actively promotes advanced fee schemes in which victims are persuaded to post a 10% up front fee to be held in escrow in order to obtain a loan. Many of the people we have talked to report that Mark E. Horton, the Managing Partner, Preferred Funding Partners and Providence Capital Advisors, doing business in North Carolina and Florida, is actively continuing to "broker" these fraudulent transactions.
Further, we have evidence that Julie Holden is involved with Ruth Liverpool, 5448 E Leitner Drive, Coral Springs, FL, in "arranging" funding for those seeking loans. Liverpool, also known as Dr. Ruth Liverpool, is the subject of various Internet Scam reports.
One of the most interesting issues common to these frauds, and the aspect that made these frauds possible, was the representation that the funds "invested" or, in the case of the advanced fee schemes, "fronted" as evidence of funding, was the representation that these funds were conveyed directly to an escrow account where they would be safely and securely held, and subject to immediate return upon demand. This representation proved to be entirely bogus; the funds "held in escrow" promptly disappeared.
Another interesting issue, and another aspect that made these "deals" appear more credible, was the representation that there was a bond underwritten by AIG that served to protect the victims. The plain language of this insurance bond makes it clear that it serves only to protect IFT in the event that an IFT employee embezzles funds. Even assuming that Holden had the nerve to file a claim, AIG could be expected to tell her that one cannot buy insurance and expect it to indemnify them for their own fraud.
If any of you are investigating a fraud scheme that has principals in common with ours, please do not hesitate to contact me.
As I am sure that those of you who work these cases can relate, exposing a Ponzi scheme is a thankless undertaking. It was a nightmare for the investigator who exposed Carlo Ponzi, and thus it has been in this case.
The ability of some otherwise perfectly intelligent people to refuse to see the obvious may seem unbelievable to the uninitiated, but when you get involved with the victims of these sorts of schemes to defraud you can see why. It is a hard thing to wrap your mind around the fact that you have lost everything you spent your life putting together to some knucklehead who hustled you over the phone. In so many cases, the person who made the decision to invest is forced to contend with the reality that in losing assets that their families were dependent upon, they have done terrible damage to those that they care most about - damage that, in many cases, they can never hope to repair.
If you have clients involved in these particular scams, the evidence is in, and I cannot imagine that anyone, no matter how desperate, will continue to cling to misguided hope that those who defrauded them will somehow come through.
I have had an opportunity to interview Bryan Smith, a former Principal of IF&T. In his sworn statement, appended below, he makes it very clear that he realized that he was in the middle of an outright fraud, confronted the Principals responsible, threatened to go to the FBI and was told that, if he did, he would be "dead within a week." He talks about the Principals of IF&T using the "escrow account" as if it was their own personal check book.
More compelling than his sworn statement is the Complaint filed by the United States Attorneys Office and the Affidavit by the Secret Service Special Agent investigating this case that was filed in support of the Forfeiture In Rem action against the various properties purchased by some of the perpetrators of this fraud with the proceeds thereof.
These documents, appended below, make it explicitly clear that there never was any underlying "investment." According to the Secret Service, the government's investigation revealed that, as investment capital rolled in, it was systematically stolen by the very people who assured the investors that their money would sit safely in an escrow account managed by their attorney, Bryan Zuzga. The government reports that, as it turns out, Zuzga was not even a real attorney.
In reading the Secret Service Affidavit, you cannot help noticing that the scheme as attributed to Hoffman parallels the IF&T scheme as promoted by Kurt Hamilton and Julie Holden exactly as described by Bryan Smith. Ridiculous representations as to rates of return on investment, assurances that investor's funds were to be held safely in escrow accounts, and the never-ending litany of promises that the stolen funds were to be paid back to investors - "tomorrow."
If the victims who have contacted us after reading this article are to be believed, the Holden/Hamilton IF&T investment scheme, and the advanced fee scheme attributed to Holden and Ruth Liverpool, may eclipse Hoffman's criminal enterprise rather dramatically.
One of the most curious aspects of this case is the fact that Jenifer Hoffman signed over her homestead protected residence on Cobblestone in Clermont to the plaintiff investors who sued her the day before the government filed the above referenced Forfeiture In Rem Complaint. It will be interesting to see how that issue is resolved.
The bottom line is, the Secret Service, the FBI, the IRS and the Florida Office of Financial Regulation are investigating this case. They apparently have a good grip on the string, victim interviews are ongoing, and it is only reasonable to expect that this ball of twine will soon be completely unraveled, with criminal prosecutions to follow.
With the government aggressively pursuing forfeitures traceable to criminally derived proceeds, it will be interesting to see if they follow recent trends, forcing the defense attorneys involved to disgorge payments received from the fraudsters. The Secret Service Agent's Affidavit certainly appears to lay the foundation for that.
I was involved in a very similar fraud case last year where the government did precisely that.
In that case, the government petitioned for an asset protective order, arguing that, "There is no exception to the restraining order provision for funds that the Defendant desires to use to retain counsel of his choice. As the Supreme Court held in United States v. Monsanto, 491 U.S. 600, 616 (1989)) and Caplin & Drysdale, Chartered v. United States, 491
U.S. 617, 623-35 (1989), respectively, the Sixth Amendment does not give the Defendant any
right to object to the pre-trial restraint and eventual forfeiture of the proceeds of his crime. See
United States v. Melrose East Subdivision, 357 F.3d 493, 500 (5th Cir. 2004)
This is the same strategy that the government employed years ago in Miami narcotics trafficking cases, thereby compelling defense counsel to surrender their retainers and disgorge fees, effectively forcing the defendants to rely upon public defenders. This became routine procedure and dramatically shut down the lucrative narcotic trafficker business that many of Miami's high profile law firms relied upon. It was a beautiful thing.
On a different note, this case has been a bit unusual for us in that our group of victims are professional people, able to afford and absorb their losses. Although they initially believed the spiel of the promoters, they soon recognized these schemes for what they were. Unlike so many of the other victims we deal with, these people did not desperately cling to the vain hope that they could believe the litany of "pacify the marks" email updates that the thieves published, and continue to publish on an almost daily basis, in an effort to placate their victims.
Our mandate from the beginning was to develop the information necessary to support our Client's theft loss tax deductions, as cognizable under Internal Revenue Code section 165(c)(2), shut down these scams by publishing the information necessary to inform other victims, and potential victims, that these people were promoting outright fraud, and work to see justice done.
For this bunch of thieves, the party is just beginning; to borrow from Shakespeare's Macbeth, "something wicked this way comes."
If you are working on behalf of victims of this case, feel free to contact me. I will be happy to forward victim contact information to the law enforcement authorities involved.
Julie Holden is reported to have entrusted funds to Bradford Trotter doing business as Brad Trotter and Associates at 85 S Broadway Street, Coal City, IL.
According to a letter transmitted via email attachment that we recently received, a copy of which is appended below, Trotter appears to have entrusted investor funds to John Mark Marino, doing business as JM International Commercial Consulting at 440 S. Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. Interestingly, Marino uses the email address, JohnMarino@marinolaw.info.
Marino, and his business entity, JM International Commercial Consulting, are named defendants in a lawsuit filed in the United States District Court, Western District of Washington as 10-CV-05196. According to the Complaint, as appended below, funds entrusted to them that were supposed to reside safely in an escrow account disappeared.
On January 6, 2011, Julie Holden was named in a civil action, along with Ruth Liverpool and others, based upon the provisions of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act [RICO]. A copy of the Complaint is available here for your review.