Bogus fish farm swindled investors out of nearly $500,000, authorities say


Rebeca Gonzalez, Matthew Braun and Michael Creamer face securities fraud charges in an alleged scheme that sold seniors on the idea of a cutting-edge fish farm that did not exist.

 

She was a helpful financial adviser who visited their homes for business. So when Rebeca Gonzalez sold elderly investors on the idea of a cutting-edge fish farm, they didn’t hesitate and collectively invested nearly $500,000, authorities said.

The fish farm was fake, but their financial loss was real, according to the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

Investigators with the state’s Office of Financial Regulation say they caught onto the scheme when one of the victims approached them. In all, seven seniors from Broward, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties were scammed between March 2013 and November 2014, officials said.

An 85-year-old Tamarac man told authorities he invested $110,000 in Blue Ocean Farm LLC, after Gonzalez went to his home and promised that his stake in the fish farm would yield up to a 6 percent return on his investment, according to an arrest report.

The senior invested savings scraped together over 20 years and even sold property in Costa Rica to make it happen, he said. The investment seemed like a sound decision because he trusted Gonzalez, who he met years prior when she worked at a real securities investment firm, he said.

“I hope the law punishes her,” the investor, Carmine Della Rocca, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Tuesday. “I cannot take the law into my hands, but thieves cannot be circulating out there.”

Gonzalez, 43, along with Matthew Braun, 36, both of Boca Raton, and Michael Creamer, 48, of Largo, face several securities fraud charges in the case, records show. Gonzalez and Braun were arrested and bonded out of jail late last month; Creamer surrendered to authorities on Monday and was jailed in Palm Beach County.

Investigators say Gonzalez was able to con other seniors who she had previously met at financial-planning seminars or through relationships established when she had done legitimate financial services work. Although she was no longer licensed to trade securities, she told clients she was now working as an independent financial adviser.

Braun had also worked in the industry but had not been licensed to trade securities in Florida since 2009, the arrest affidavit said. Although none of the seniors met Creamer, authorities say he was tied to accounts that received the ill-gotten investments.

According to the arrest affidavit, when one of the investors grew concerned over the lack of financial statements and other documents, Braun posed as the president of the South Dakota fishing farm company and made a home visit with Gonzalez.

Still, they gave seniors no brochures and said the company’s website was still being constructed. The little they knew about the fish farm was that its technology involved “floating spheres” anchored offshore that allowed fish to swim freely but contained them to later be harvested, the affidavit said.

They knew the company was based in landlocked South Dakota, but didn’t know where its operations were located.

One senior also was a victim of a “bait-and-switch” tactic after investing in a French electronics company, investigators said. She was later told that her money was invested in the fish farm, and she could not back out.

In addition to the Tamarac investor, the seniors who invested were from Sunrise, Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Boca Raton and Port St. Lucie. Two of the seven investors have since died, as authorities caught onto the scam and investigated.

 

Article From:- http://www.sun-sentinel.com

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