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SEC charges northern California fund manager in USD60m scheme

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The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged an investment adviser in Scotts Valley, California, with running a USD60 million investment fund like a Ponzi scheme and defrauding investors by touting imaginary trading profits instead of reporting the actual trading losses he incurred.

The SEC alleges that John A Geringer, who managed the GLR Growth Fund, used false and misleading marketing materials to lure investors into believing that the fund was earning double-digit annual returns by investing 75 per cent of its assets in investments tied to major stock indices. In reality, Geringer’s trading generated consistent losses and he eventually stopped trading entirely. To mask his fraud, Geringer paid millions of dollars in “returns” to investors largely by using money received from newer investors. He also sent investors periodic account statements showing fictitious growth in their investments.

“Geringer painted the picture of a successful fund weathering America’s financial crisis through a diversified, conservative investment strategy,” said Marc Fagel, Director of the SEC’s San Francisco Regional Office. “The reality, however, was the complete opposite. Geringer lost millions of dollars in the market, tied up remaining investor funds in a pair of illiquid private companies, and lied about it in phony account statements.”

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in San Jose, Geringer raised more than USD60 million since 2005, mostly from investors in the Santa Cruz area. Geringer used fraudulent marketing materials claiming that the fund had between 17 and 25 per cent annual returns in every year of the fund’s operation through investments tied to well-known stock indices like the S&P 500, NASDAQ, and Dow Jones. Although the fund was started in 2003, marketing materials claimed 25 per cent returns in 2001 and 2002 – before the fund even existed. The marketing materials also falsely indicated a nearly 24 per cent return in 2008 from investing mainly in publicly-traded securities, options, and commodities, while the S&P 500 Index lost 38.5 per cent.

The SEC alleges that Geringer’s actual securities trading was unsuccessful, and by mid-2009 the fund did not invest in publicly-traded securities at all. Instead, the fund invested heavily in illiquid investments in two private startup technology companies. The rest of the money was paid to investors in Ponzi-like fashion and to three entities Geringer controlled that also are charged in the SEC’s complaint.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Geringer further lied to investors on account statements that falsely claimed “MEMBER NASD AND SEC APPROVED.” The SEC does not “approve” funds or investments in funds, nor was the fund (or any related entity) a member of the NASD (now called the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority – FINRA). Geringer also falsely claimed that the fund’s financial statements were audited annually by an independent accountant. No such audits were performed.

The SEC’s complaint alleges Geringer and three related entities violated or aided and abetted violations of the antifraud provisions of the securities laws as well as a statute barring people from claiming that the SEC has passed on the merits of a particular investment. The SEC seeks financial penalties, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, preliminary and permanent injunctions, and other relief. Geringer, the fund, and two of the related entities consented to the entry of a preliminary injunction and a freeze on the fund’s bank account.

The SEC’s investigation, which is continuing, has been conducted by Robert J Durham and Robert S Leach of the San Francisco Regional Office. The SEC’s litigation will be led by Sheila O’Callaghan of the San Francisco Regional Office.

The SEC thanks the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and FINRA for their assistance in this matter.
 

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