Court Approves Initial Distribution of $264.5 Million to Harmed Investors in SEC Ponzi Scheme Case Against Connecticut-Based Hedge Fund Manager Francisco Illarramendi, Michael Kenwood Capital Management, an Highview Point Partners
NEW YORK -- The US Federal Court in Connecticut has approved a receiver's plan to distribute assets to the victims of the fraud allegedly perpetrated by Connecticut-based hedge fund manager Francisco Illarramendi, and approved an initial distribution amount of $264,580,160 from the assets recovered to date.
In January 2011, the SEC charged Illarramendi and various entities owned or controlled by him, including investment advisers Highview Point Partners, LLC, and Michael Kenwood Capital Management, LLC, with engaging in a multi-year Ponzi scheme involving hundreds of millions of dollars.
On February 3, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut appointed a receiver in the case to marshal the assets of a number of entities formerly owned or controlled by defendants Illarramendi, Highview Point Partners, and Michael Kenwood Capital Management. The receiver has collected substantial assets to distribute to parties harmed by the defendants' alleged wrongdoing, and the Court has approved the receiver's initial plan to distribute over $264 million. The receiver plans to make additional distributions to harmed parties at a later time as additional funds become available.
The SEC's action against Illarramendi and others remains pending.
In a parallel criminal action, on March 7, 2011, Illarramendi pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud, one count of securities fraud, one count of investment advisor fraud, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, to obstruct an official proceeding and to defraud the SEC. He is awaiting sentencing.
As of June 30, John Carney, the Receiver, says they had made approximately $58.8 million in disbursements and had recovered approximately $373.6 million. In addition, Carney and his law firm Baker & Hostetler had also paid $17,134,205 to themselves and others for expenses as of June 30.
A list of the companies and people that filed claims to have their money returned is available below.
Illarramendi's fraud unravelled in January 2011, when the SEC charged him with engaging in a multi-year Ponzi scheme involving hundreds of millions of dollars. On March 7, 2011, Illarramendi pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud, one count of securities fraud, one count of investment advisor fraud, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, to obstruct an official proceeding and to defraud the SEC, for which he is still awaiting sentencing.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI and our Connecticut Securities, Commodities and Investor Fraud Task Force are committed to the aggressive investigation and prosecution of individuals who attempt to obstruct the SEC and its critically important mission of protecting investors and the integrity of American capital markets,” said U.S. Attorney Fein, who brought the charges.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Francisco Illarramendi of New Canaan, Connecticut acted as an investment adviser to hedge funds he co-owned. In approximately 2005, one hedge fund he advised lost millions of dollars and rather than disclose to his investors the truth about the losses incurred, Illarramendi decided to hide the losses by engaging in a long-running scheme to defraud and mislead his investors, creditors and the SEC to prevent the truth about the losses from being discovered.
"Based upon my review of documents and the testimony and admissions of Illarramendi, it is apparent that Illarramendi began the Fraudulent Scheme at least as early as October 2005 when he caused losses from the purchase and sale of a Credit Lyonnais bond with a nominal value of $50 million," forensic accountant Matthew Greenblatt explained to the court.
"In approximately mid-October 2005, I was in Venezuela to enter into supposedly a transaction to purchase a credit linked note from a Venezuelan financial institution through the arbitrage that I have described in my testimony in answering to Mr. Loewenson's questions," said Illarramendi during his guilty plea hearing. "And as a result of that, because of a number of issues, the bank that was purchasing the note from us backed out of the transaction, and because of market events that resulted in us, or me, having to sell the security at a much lower price than I had intended initially, and a loss being effectively incurred."
"Despite the fact that the Calyon Bond transaction resulted in a loss, HVP Partners transferred cash to each investor, other than HVP Offshore, in amounts greater than each investor’s initial investment," said Greenblatt. "For example, Lopez, and his sister Carolina Lopez, received approximately $2.55 million for their $2.5 million investment. Because Illarramendi distributed positive returns to the other investors, HVP Offshore only received approximately $14.1 million in cash and bonds for its original investment of approximately $18.8 million. Although only $14.1 million in value was received by HVP Offshore, its books and records were falsified to reflect the receipt of approximately $19.3 million of value from the investment. The difference between the $19.3 million falsely recorded and the $14.1 million in value actually received constituted a cash shortfall of approximately $5.2 million absorbed by HVP Offshore, which Illarramendi described to the Court as the beginning of the “hole” that his Fraudulent Scheme concealed."
Illarramendi then sought to make up the losses by engaging in options trading, but only made the situation worse. "By the end of August 2006, the hole stood at over $33 million, more than one third of the $95 million net asset value of the HVP Funds," says Greenblatt.
Under cross-examination in court when he entered his guilty plea last year, Illarramendi agreed that the loss could be over $300 million now.
- "Q. You've referred to this as the hole in your plea allocution?
- A. Yes, I believe so.
- Q. And the hole could, in your estimation, be in excess of $300 million?
- A. I believe so, yes."
Last year, the Receiver filed new lawsuits against the Mouawad and Mawad families. In June of this year, the Receiver filed a new $15 million lawsuit against Walter Luciano Stipa Sprecase, who along with the Mouawad family, owns the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Aruba.
To cover up the money gaps, Illarramendi engaged with others to create fraudulent documents, including a fictitious asset verification letter falsely representing that one of the hedge funds, the Short Term Liquidity Fund had at least $275 million in credits as a result of outstanding loans, when Illarramendi and others knew it had nothing.
A Venezuelan "fixer", Juan Carlos Horna Napolitano, was brought in for $3 million to find help paper over the gap and in late 2010, he persuaded Venezuelan accountant Juan Carlos Guillen Zerpa to prepare an asset verification letter that would falsely prove that the funds had made outstanding loans to Venezuelan companies. Guillen, a resident and citizen of Venezuela, was the managing partner of the local Venezuela affiliate of BDO, the world’s fifth-largest accounting network. Horna "and others" then worked to create a fraudulent list of loans and to incorporate this list into the asset verification letter to be signed by Guillen.
In January 2011, Guillen executed the false asset verification letter and sent it by e-mail to Illarramendi.
Guillen and Horna then learned that the false asset verification letter had been given to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to try and justify the missing money, and that the SEC saw through it, and initiated a civil action against Illarramendi and others (SEC v. Illarramendi, et al., 3:11-CV-00078).
Sticking to their story as the SEC closed in, Guillen, Illarramendi, Horna and others then had to create more fraudulent documentation to try to support the false information contained in the letter. Guillen even participated in a telephone call with representatives of the SEC in January 2011 in which he intentionally misrepresented that the assertions in the asset verification letter about the existence of the hedge funds’ assets were true.
Guillen expected to receive approximately $1 million for his willingness to sign the false asset verification letter. Horna maintained control of a Florida bank account in the name of Jeislo Real Estate Investments, LLC. Illarramendi had two transfers of funds sent to Jeislo in the total amount of $1.25 million. As partial payment for Guillen’s services in this conspiracy, Horna transferred $250,000 to a third party for the benefit of Guillen.
In a letter to the Court in accountant Guillen's trial, David E. Bergers, Regional Director of the SEC’s Boston Regional Office stated, “...the Defendant’s conduct delayed the Commission staff’s detection of a very serious financial fraud. It also resulted in the Commission staff expending additional government resources to uncover the fraud via other methods. We consider this kind of misconduct, especially by industry professionals such as the Defendant, to be particularly damaging to investors, to our capital markets and to the Commission’s investigative mission.”
The charade didn't last long, especially after Illarramendi admitted the fraud, turned State's evidence and began working with the SEC, including recording his co-conspirators for the FBI. Guillen and Horna were arrested by FBI special agents on March 3, 2011, in Florida. On March 7, 2011, Illarramendi pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud, one count of securities fraud, one count of investment advisor fraud, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, to obstruct an official proceeding and to defraud the SEC. On May 4, 2011, Guillen pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Horna pleaded guilty to the same charge on May 19, 2011.
Venezuelan accountant Juan Carlos Guillen Zerpa was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment followed by two years supervised release for his role in the conspiracy to obstruct the Commission’s investigation by US District Judge Stefan R. Underhill in Bridgeport, Connecticut on December 14, 2011. He was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and to forfeit the $315,000 he received.
Florida resident Juan Carlos Horna Napolitano was also sentenced by Judge Underhill to 14 months imprisonment, followed by two years supervised release, for his role in conspiring to obstruct a Commission investigation relating to Illarramendi. Horna was also ordered to forfeit the $935,000 he received.
Illarramendi -- who could face 70 years -- has been in jail awaiting sentencing since January of 2013. He has changed lawyers several times and they have repeatedly asked for delays in sentencing.
Copies of the Lawsuits with Exhibits Filed by the Receiver
PDVSA Ponzi Receiver Suit Against Walter Luciano Stipa Sprecase
PDVSA Ponzi Receiver Suit Against Mouawad and Mawad Families
PDVSA Ponzi Receiver Suit for $31 Million Against PDVSA Manager JUAN S. MONTES, a.k.a. “BLACK”
PDVSA Ponzi Receiver Suit for $300 Million Against FRANCISCO ILLARRAMENDI, MARIA JOSEPHINA GONZALEZ-MIRANDA, ADELA M. ILLARRAMENDI
PDVSA Ponzi Receiver Suit for $171.7 Million Against Venezuelan Financier MORIS BERACHA; 4A STAR CORP.;BRADLEYVILLE LTD.; BRAVE SPIRIT LTD.;DOBSON MANAGEMENT CORP.; EASTCOAST CONSULTANT CORP.; FRACTALFUND MANAGEMENT LTD.; FRACTALFACTORING FUND; FRACTAL L HOLDINGLTD.; FRACTAL P. HOLDING LTD.;FRACTAL FACTORING II; HERMITAGECONSULTANTS INC.; LA SIGNORIA ASSETSCORP.; NETVALUE STRATEGY, S.A.;NORTHWESTERN INTERNATIONAL, LTD.;ROWBERROW TRADING CORP.; and SUNNYSERVICES CORP.
PDVSA Ponzi Scheme Receiver for $29.7 Million Against Illarramendi Partners (FRANCISCO LOPEZ, CAROLINA LOPEZ PELÁEZ, CARLOS MANUEL BARRANTES ARAYA, CHRISTOPHER LUTH, and VICTOR CHONG)
PDVSA Ponzi Scheme Receiver for $7.5 Million Against Illaramendi Partner ODO HABECK, NANCY HABECK, AND OGH ADVISORS, LLC
PDVSA Ponzi Scheme Receiver for $1.686 Million Against JAVIER MARIN, HISPANIC NEWS PRESS,INC., LUIS LUGO, and MERICA CONSULTING, INC
Statement by Receiver's Forensic Accountant Matthew Greenblatt, and relevant Excerpts from the SEC Case, including Illarramendi’s testimony, Illarramendi’s criminal plea agreement, excerpts of the transcript of his plea allocution and the Stipulation of Offense Conduct executed in connection with his guilty plea, and Highview Point and Fund LLC Agreements.
PDVSA Ponzi Receiver Original 2012 Accounting: Assets and LIST OF CLAIMANTS (with Amounts Claimed)
Financial Statement of the Receiver 30 June 2014
The Latin American Herald Tribune is one of the few newspapers that has been following this fraud since the beginning:
PDVSA Ponzi Scheme's US Receiver Sues to Recover $550 Million for Venezuela
2/8/2012 VenEconomy: Venezuela's PDVSA Scandal is Back -- with a Vengeance
1/31/2012 Venezuelan "Fixer" Sentenced to 14 Months in PDVSA Ponzi Scheme
12/15/2011 Venezuela Head of BDO Accountants Sentenced to 14 Months in PDVSA Ponzi Scheme
7/3/2011 US SEC Recovers $230 Million in Venezuela's PDVSA Pension Fund Ponzi Scheme
6/4/2011 Gustavo Coronel: Venezuela's Latest Half-Billion Dollar Scandal
5/19/2011 Another Venezuelan Pleads Guilty in Venezuela's PDVSA $500 Million Ponzi
5/16/2011 US SEC Charges Highview Point Partners in Venezuela's PDVSA Ponzi Scam
5/6/2011 Venezuelan Accountant Pleads Guilty in PDVSA $500 Million Ponzi in USA
3/9/2011 VenEconomy: Those Who Authorized Him Are to Blame
3/7/2011 US Charges Venezuela PDVSA Pension Fund Manager with Running Ponzi Scheme