The Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice said Wednesday they have halted a $364 million Ponzi scheme that targeted hundreds of investors across the U.S. by promising them riches off the purchase and sale of consumer debt.
Instead, the three men charged in the case are accused of using a web of lies, forgeries and fake documents to carry out the fraud since 2013, using the money to fund lavish lifestyles, including the purchase of dozens of luxury cars as well as diamond jewelry, high-end real estate and a private fitness club. Some of the millions of dollars also went to casinos.
"We allege defendants engaged in a brazen fraud, deceiving investors to perpetuate their wrongdoing and line their pockets with ill-gotten gains," said Kelly Gibson, the associate regional director of the SEC's Philadelphia office. The Department of Justice filed its charges in the case in a Maryland federal court.
A federal grand jury indicted the three men — Kevin B. Merrill, 53, of Towson, Maryland; Jay B. Ledford, 54, of Weslake, Texas, and Las Vegas, Nevada; and Cameron Jeziersky, 28, of Fort Worth, Texas — on Sept. 11 on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, identity theft and money laundering, the Department of Justice said. They raised the millions of dollars through wealthy family investment offices, individuals and small businesses, targeting restaurateurs, doctors, lawyers, professional athletes, talent agents, retirees and others.
"Most of these investors are just learning that they have been victimized," said Robert Hur, the U.S. Attorney in Baltimore, in a statement on Wednesday. His office described it as one of the largest ever Ponzi schemes charged in Maryland.
About $197 million of the money was used to pay earlier investors in order to deceive investors that their money had been used as promised, the SEC said in its complaint. A Ponzi scheme typically promises high rates of return with little risk.
The three men falsely told investors they would use the money to invest in consumer debt portfolios, generating profit by collecting on the payments people made on their debt or by selling the portfolios to third parties, prosecutors said. They each face the potential for decades in prison.
A lawyer for Merrill couldn't immediately be reached. Lawyers for the other two men couldn't immediately be identified.