Three men are accused of running a Ponzi scheme that scammed more than $14 million from hundreds of Haitian-American investors in South Florida and New Jersey.
In a complaint filed Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Ronnie Eugene Bass Jr., Abner Alabre and Brian Taglieri promised to double their clients' money every 90 days through their HomePals Investment Club.
"The extraordinary promises made by these three men spread by word of mouth throughout a close-knit community," said Glenn Gordon, associate director of the SEC's Miami regional office. "Bass presented himself as a master trader of stock options and commodities, when in reality he was a master of deceit."
Bass, 35, of Miami, invested no more than $1.2 million of the $14.3 million collected from investors, and suffered trading losses of 20 percent, authorities said.
Bass, Alabre and Taglieri also face criminal charges of securities fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to a grand jury indictment. Each faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
From April 2008 to December 2008, the men pitched their investments to prospective clients in their Delray Beach offices and maintained a Web site, homepalsinvestmentclub.com, authorities said.
The company's phone number has been disconnected, but its Web site was still live Saturday, complete with testimonials such as "I have never met a firm that operates with such integrity. HomePals Investments Club does what it says it will do."
HomePals raised most of its money through as many as 64 Haitian-American investment clubs, and it offered potential investors a commission for forming new clubs, according to the SEC.
Most of the money allegedly went to paying earlier investors. The men misappropriated about $668,000 for personal use, including $380,000 for a house for Bass and Alabre.
By the end of December, HomePals had only $7,300 left and stopped making payments to investors, according to the SEC complaint. Bass sent investors a letter on Dec. 26, 2008, stating that, "as a consequence of heavy losses suffered," HomePals would not be able to make the payments until March 6. The company closed its offices on March 7.
Alabre, 33, of Miramar, presented himself to investors as the company's secretary, and Taglieri, 49, of Jupiter, presented himself as HomePals' attorney, authorities said.
Bass and Alabre were being detained Saturday, with their arraignments and bond hearings scheduled for Wednesday. Bass' attorney declined comment. Alabre's attorney also declined comment, saying he had not yet been able to meet with his court-appointed client.
The SEC said Taglieri agreed to settle the charges against him without admitting guilt or denying the allegations.
It was not clear if Taglieri was represented by an attorney. Phone numbers listed for him have been disconnected.
In December, the SEC accused a Palm Beach County man of bilking more than $23 million from thousands of Haitian-Americans nationwide. George Theodule used his Haitian background to recruit investors and promised to create a "nation of Haitian millionaires," according to an attorney representing some of the scheme's victims.