Avoid Disaster Frauds

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Tips on Avoiding Fraudulent Charitable Contribution Schemes

The National Center for Disaster Fraud reminds the public to be aware of and report any instances of alleged fraudulent activity related to relief operations and funding for victims. Unfortunately, criminals can exploit disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey, for their own gain by sending fraudulent communications through email or social media and by creating phony websites designed to solicit contributions.

Tips should be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud at (866) 720-5721. The line is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, e-mails can be sent to disaster@leo.gov(link sends e-mail), and information can be faxed to (225) 334-4707.

The U.S. Department of Justice established the National Center for Disaster Fraud to investigate, prosecute, and deter fraud in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when billions of dollars in federal disaster relief poured into the Gulf Coast region. Its mission has expanded to include suspected fraud from any natural or manmade disaster. More than 30 federal, state, and local agencies participate in the National Center for Disaster Fraud, which allows the center to act as a centralized clearinghouse of information related to disaster relief fraud.

The public should remember to perform due diligence before giving contributions to anyone soliciting donations or individuals offering to provide assistance to those affected by the hurricane and tornadoes. Solicitations can originate from social media, e-mails, websites, door-to-door collections, flyers, mailings, telephone calls, and other similar methods.

Before making a donation of any kind, consumers should adhere to certain guidelines, including:

  • Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages, because they may contain computer viruses.
  • Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as members of charitable organizations or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
  • Beware of organizations with copy-cat names similar to but not exactly the same as those of reputable charities.
  • Rather than follow a purported link to a website, verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group’s existence and its nonprofit status.
  • Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
  • To ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.
  • Do not be pressured into making contributions; reputable charities do not use such tactics.
  • Be aware of whom you are dealing with when providing your personal and financial information. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
  • Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by credit card or write a check directly to the charity. Do not make checks payable to individuals.
  • Legitimate charities do not normally solicit donations via money transfer services. Most legitimate charities’ websites end in .org rather than .com.
Press Release Number:

SEC Press Release, October 16, 2014

SEC’s FY 2014 Enforcement Actions Span Securities Industry and Include First-Ever Cases

New Investigative Approaches and Innovative Use of Data and Analytical Tools Help Drive Successful Enforcement Year


Washington D.C., Oct. 16, 2014 —The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that in fiscal year 2014, new investigative approaches and the innovative use of data and analytical tools contributed to a very strong year for enforcement marked by cases that spanned the securities industry.

In the fiscal year that ended in September, the SEC filed a record 755 enforcement actions covering a wide range of misconduct, and obtained orders totaling $4.16 billion in disgorgement and penalties, according to preliminary figures.  In FY 2013, the Commission filed 686 enforcement actions and obtained orders totaling $3.4 billion in disgorgement and penalties.  In FY 2012, the Commission filed 734 enforcement actions and obtained orders totaling $3.1 billion in disgorgement and penalties.

The agency’s enforcement actions also included a number of first-ever cases, including actions  involving the market access rule, the “pay-to-play” rule for investment advisers, an emergency action to halt a municipal bond offering, and an action for whistleblower retaliation.

“Aggressive enforcement against wrongdoers who harm investors and threaten our financial markets remains a top priority, and we brought and will continue to bring creative and important enforcement actions across a broad range of the securities markets,” said SEC Chair Mary Jo White.  “The innovative use of technology – enhanced use of data and quantitative analysis – was instrumental in detecting misconduct and contributed to the Enforcement Division’s success in bringing quality actions that resulted in stiff monetary sanctions.”

“Time and again this past year, the Division’s staff applied its tremendous energy and talent, uncovered misconduct, and held accountable those who were responsible for wrongdoing,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.  “I am proud of our excellent record of success and look forward to another year filled with high-impact enforcement actions.”

In addition to the first-ever cases, Chair White noted that the Municipalities Continuing Disclosure Cooperation (MCDC) Initiative was an important effort that began in the last fiscal year.  The SEC reached a settlement with a California school district for charges of misleading bond investors, making it the first settlement under the initiative targeting municipal disclosure.

Director Ceresney added that, going forward, the Enforcement Division will continue to bring its resources to bear across the entire spectrum of the financial industry, from complex accounting fraud and market structure cases, to investment adviser and municipal securities cases, microcap fraud, insider trading, and cases against gatekeepers.

SEC Enforcement in Fiscal Year 2014

Combatting Financial Fraud and Enhancing Issuer Disclosure

To read the full Press Release, click here.



Ponzitracker: A New Ponzi Scheme Uncovered Every 118 Hours??

PZ logo

Ponzi Schemes Remain Prevalent In 2014; Over $1 Billion In New Schemes Uncovered

Jordan D. Maglich Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 9:26AM

Nearly six years after the word “Ponzi scheme” became a household name thanks to Bernard Madoff, Ponzi schemes continue to proliferate and leave a trail of financial destruction in their wake as demonstrated by newly-compiled data showing more than $1 billion of newly-uncovered schemes and over 600 years in prison sentences handed down in the first half of 2014.  In the first six months of 2014, at least 37 Ponzi schemes were uncovered, with a total of more than $1 billion in potential losses.  This equated to the discovery of a Ponzi scheme (1) more than once per week, (2) every 4.9 days, or (3) every 118 hours. Included in this list are at least three Ponzi schemes with estimated losses of at least $100 million or more, with the estimated $300 million in losses in the alleged TelexFree Ponzi scheme ranking as the largest Ponzi scheme exposed in the first half of 2014.

The data, permanently housed in this database and also displayed below, is presented as a reminder that Ponzi schemes remain rampant in the United States and worldwide despite mounting government and regulatory efforts.  Indeed, the 37 schemes discovered during the first half of 2014 suggest that at least 74 schemes will be discovered in 2014 – approximately 10% more than the 67 schemes unearthed in 2013.

Read the rest of the story here

SEC Charges California School District

SEC Charges California School District with Misleading Investors

Settlement Is First Under Initiative Targeting Municipal Disclosure

Washington D.C., July 8, 2014 —The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a school district in California with misleading bond investors about its failure to provide contractually required financial information and notices.  The case is the first to be resolved under a new SEC initiative to address materially inaccurate statements in municipal bond offering documents.

The SEC found that in the course of a 2010 bond offering, Kings Canyon Joint Unified School District affirmed to investors that it had complied with its prior continuing disclosure obligations.  The statement was inaccurate because between at least 2008 and 2010, the school district had failed to submit some required disclosures.  The California school district agreed to settle the charges without admitting to or denying the findings.

Under the Municipalities Continuing Disclosure Cooperation (MCDC) initiative, the SEC’s Enforcement Division agreed to recommend standardized settlement terms for issuers and underwriters who self-report or were already under investigation for violations involving continuing disclosure obligations.  The 2014 initiative, launched on March 10, expires on September 10.

“The integrity of the municipal securities market requires that issuers carefully comply with all of their disclosure obligations,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.  “Our MCDC initiative is one piece of our efforts to ensure that issuers meet their obligations going forward.”

LeeAnn Ghazil Gaunt, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit added, “An important component of the MCDC program is that it provides issuers who were already under investigation the opportunity to accept the standard terms and resolve their enforcement matters in a fair and efficient manner.  We are pleased that King’s Canyon has taken advantage of the program and we continue to encourage all eligible issuers and underwriters to do so while the MCDC terms are still available.”

The SEC’s order instituting settled administrative proceedings finds that in three bond offerings between 2006 and 2007, Kings Canyon contractually agreed to disclose annual financial information and notices of certain events pertaining to those bonds.  When it conducted a $6.8 million bond offering in November 2010, Kings Canyon was required to describe any instances where it had failed to materially comply with its prior disclosure obligations.  In the 2010 offering document, Kings Canyon inaccurately affirmed that there was “no instance in the previous five years in which it failed to comply in all material respects with any previous continuing disclosure obligation.”  Because Kings Canyon failed to submit some of the contractually required disclosures relating to the 2006 and 2007 offerings, the November 2010 bond offering document contained an untrue statement of a material fact.

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, Kings Canyon consented to an order to cease and desist from committing or causing any future violations of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act.  It also agreed to adopt written policies for its continuing disclosure obligations, comply with its existing continuing disclosure obligations, cooperate with any subsequent investigation by the Enforcement Division, and disclose the terms of its settlement with the SEC in future bond offering materials.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Monique C. Winkler and was supervised by Cary Robnett.  Both are in the SEC’s San Francisco Regional Office and are members of the Enforcement Division’s Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit.





DOJ: California Attorney Sentenced to Prison in Scheme to Hide Millions

Department of Justice

Office of Public Affairs


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

California Attorney Sentenced to Prison in Scheme to Hide Millions in Secret Swiss Accounts at UBS AG and Pictet & Cie

California attorney Christopher M. Rusch was sentenced to serve 10 months in prison for helping his clients Stephen M. Kerr and Michael Quiel, both businessmen from Phoenix, hide millions of dollars in secret offshore bank accounts at UBS AG and Pictet & Cie in Switzerland, the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced today.   U.S. District Judge James A. Teilborg also ordered Rusch to serve three years of supervised release following his prison sentence.   On Feb. 6, 2013, Rusch pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the government and failing to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR).   Kerr and Quiel were sentenced in September 2013 to each serve 10 months in prison after both were tried and convicted of filing false income tax returns for 2007 and 2008.   The jury also convicted Kerr of failing to file FBARs for 2007 and 2008.

According to the evidence presented at trial, Kerr and Quiel, with the assistance of Rusch and others, including Swiss nationals, established nominee foreign entities and corresponding bank accounts in Switzerland to conceal Kerr and Quiel’s ownership and control of stock and income they deposited in these accounts.   Rusch testified at trial, admitting that he and others caused the sale of the shares of stock through the undeclared accounts.   Rusch further testified that, at Kerr and Quiel’s direction, he transferred some of the money in the secret accounts back to the United States through Rusch’s Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Account before dispersing the money for Kerr and Quiel’s benefit, including the purchase of a multi-million dollar golf course in Erie, Colo.   According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, with Rusch’s assistance, Kerr and Quiel each failed to report more than $ 4,600,000 and $2,000,000 of income, respectively, during 2007 and 2008 which they hid in the undeclared accounts with Rusch’s assistance.

“We are getting more and more information all the time about offshore banking activities,” said Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Keneally for the Tax Division.   “We are committed to investigating and prosecuting those who continue to evade taxes and reporting requirements.   As these sentences show, those who fail to come into compliance risk high penalties and jail.”

“This prosecution serves notice that the Department of Justice will not tolerate fraudulent activity designed to undermine the integrity of our income tax system,” said U.S. Attorney John S. Leonardo for the District of Arizona.

“Today, Mr. Rusch has been held accountable for his actions in assisting wealthy individuals hide millions of dollars in secret offshore bank accounts and dodge the tax system,” said Chief of IRS-Criminal Investigation Richard Weber.   “In addition, Mr. Rusch used his attorney trust account to funnel money from the secret offshore accounts back to Mr. Kerr and Mr. Quiel for their personal benefit, including the purchase of a multi-million dollar golf course.   As the investigation into offshore tax evasion continues, Criminal Investigation will leave no financial stone unturned as we continue to vigorously pursue new leads.”

The case was investigated by special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, and was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Timothy J. Stockwell for the Tax Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Monica Edelstein for the District of Arizona.

Additional information about the Justice Department’s Tax Division and its enforcement efforts is available at the website.

14-285                                                                                                                                                                 Tax Division