General Crime

* Peter Son, 37, Of Danville; Jin Chung, 46, Of Los Altos Charged With $80 Million Ponzi Scheme

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Two Bay Area men were charged by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in federal court in San Francisco today with conducting an $80 million Ponzi scheme targeted at Korean-American investors. Peter Son, 37, of Danville; Jin Chung, 46, of Los Altos; and two companies they controlled were named in a civil lawsuit filed by the SEC.The two men raised $80 million from 500 investors between 2003 and 2008, according to the lawsuit.The complaint alleges they falsely promised returns of up to 36 percent per year from foreign currency trading but in fact “traded little or none of investors’ money in foreign currency markets.”Instead, the two men “siphoned investor funds off for their own personal expenses and for other uses unrelated to foreign currency trading,” the complaint alleges.The lawsuit said some of investors’ money went to pay for Son’s mortgage on his $2.6 million home in the gated Blackhawk community in Danville and a $3,000-per-month salary for his wife, who allegedly did no work for the investment companies. Buying and selling foreign currency is known as foreign exchange or forex trading.  Marc Fagel, director of the SEC’s regional office in San Francisco, said, “Son and Chung portrayed themselves and their companies as highly successful in the forex industry, while in reality the tremendous forex trading profits they claimed did not exist.”They placed ads in Korean-language newspapers and used sales agents to target Korean-Americans in typical affinity fraud fashion as they preyed on the trust within close-knit communities,” Fagel said. Son also faces separate federal criminal charges and appeared in U.S. District Court in Oakland Monday on those charges, the SEC said. U.S. attorney’s office spokesman Jack Gillund said he could confirm that Son appeared in court Monday, but said he could not disclose the criminal charges because they are currently under seal.A lawyer for Son, John Feiner of Irvine, was not immediately available for comment.The civil lawsuit seeks court orders freezing the two men’s assets and requiring them to return overseas funds to the United States, to surrender fraudulently obtained funds and to pay financial penalties.  The lawsuit says the two men targeted Korean-American investors in the Bay Area and also drew investors from at least four other states, South Korea and Taiwan. Investors were allegedly given false monthly account statements. The lawsuit says some investors received monthly checks that were allegedly, in Ponzi scheme fashion, funded with deposits made by other investors.  Other investors chose to leave their supposed profits in their accounts or accept unsecured promissory notes, according to the lawsuit.SEC spokeswoman Tracy Davis said investigators are seeking to determine how much money some investors got back and how much the total amount lost was.The two men “ceased the operations” of the two companies without warning to investors in October, left their Bay Area residences in November and ceased communications with investors, according to the lawsuit.Also today, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed a separate civil lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco charging that Son, Chung, the two companies and Son’s wife, Ann Lee, engaged in fraud.

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