The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has charged two individuals who provided the biggest influx of investor funds into one of the largest-ever Ponzi schemes in South Florida.
The SEC alleges that George Levin and Frank Preve, who live in the Fort Lauderdale area, raised more than USD157 million from 173 investors in less than two years by issuing promissory notes from Levin’s company and interests in a private investment fund they operated. They used investor funds to purchase discounted legal settlements from former Florida attorney Scott Rothstein through his prominent law firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt and Adler PA. However, the settlements Rothstein sold were not real and the supposed plaintiffs and defendants did not exist. Rothstein simply used the funds in classic Ponzi scheme fashion to make payments due other investors and support his lavish lifestyle. Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme collapsed in October 2009, and he is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence.
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Miami, Levin and Preve began raising money to purchase Rothstein settlements in 2007 by offering investors short-term promissory notes issued by Levin’s company – Banyon 1030-32 LLC. In 2009, seeking additional funds from investors, they formed a private investment fund called Banyon Income Fund LP that invested exclusively in Rothstein’s settlements. Banyon 1030-32 served as the general partner of the fund, and its profit was generated from the amount by which the settlement discounts obtained from Rothstein exceeded the rate of return promised to investors.
The SEC alleges that the offering materials for the promissory notes and the private fund contained material misrepresentations and omissions. They misrepresented to investors that prior to any settlement purchase, Banyon 1030-32 would obtain certain documentation about the settlements to ensure the safety of the investments. Levin and Preve, however, knew or were reckless in not knowing that Banyon 1030-32 often purchased settlements from Rothstein without obtaining any documentation whatsoever.
Furthermore, Banyon Income Fund’s private placement memorandum misrepresented that the fund would be a continuation of a successful business strategy pursued by Banyon 1030-32 during the prior two-and-a-half years. Levin and Preve failed to disclose that by the time the Banyon Income Fund offering began in May 2009, Rothstein had already ceased making payments on a majority of the prior settlements Levin and his entities had purchased. They also failed to inform investors that Levin’s ability to recover his prior investments from Rothstein was contingent on his ability to raise at least USD100 million of additional funding to purchase more settlements from Rothstein.
The SEC’s complaint charges Levin and Preve with violating Section 5(a), 5(c), and 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, and Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The SEC is seeking disgorgement of ill gotten gains, financial penalties, and permanent injunctive relief against Levin and Preve to enjoin them from future violations of the federal securities laws.