On March 12, 2013, the SEC announced charges and an emergency asset freeze against a Redondo Beach, California, resident and his companies for defrauding seniors and other investors in a real estate investment scheme.
The SEC alleged that Alvin R. Brown raised more than $3 million from investors who were falsely promised high profits for investing in his companies that were purportedly funding commercial and residential rental properties in California and other western states. Brown and his companies – First Choice Investment and Advanced Corporate Enterprises (ACorp) – instead used investor funds to make Ponzi-like payments to pre-existing investors, and Brown routinely withdrew cash for personal use. The ACorp website prominently displayed the seals of the SEC and the State of California as well as the NYSE, NASDAQ, and the Better Business Bureau to falsely imply to investors that these investments were endorsed by these organizations. In reality, the investment offerings were not registered with the SEC.
According to the SEC’s complaint unsealed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Brown particularly targeted an elderly investor suffering from a stroke and dementia. After the investor made a $30,000 initial investment, his daughter advised ACorp to stop contacting her father because she had power of attorney, but Brown nonetheless e-mailed him forms to close his brokerage account and move the money to an IRA account that would then invest in ACorp. The investor’s daughter replied to Brown again to remind him that she had power of attorney and he should cease-and-desist from contacting her father. But ACorp eventually succeeded in circumventing the daughter to get the investor’s signature as well as an additional $45,000 investment. The investor’s daughter requested the return of her father’s money, but it was never returned.
The SEC alleged that Brown and First Choice lured investors beginning in January 2011 by falsely promising 10 percent annual returns and a planned initial public offering (IPO) at the end of 2012 that would net investors 150 percent of their original investment. They touted Brown’s management experience but failed to disclose to investors that he had twice filed for personal bankruptcy. Brown also falsely stated that ACorp’s assets guaranteed the investments and misled investors into believing their money was safe and secure.
The Commission’s complaint alleged that Brown, ACorp, and First Choice violated Sections 5(a), 5(c), and 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder; and seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions, appointment of a permanent receiver, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains with prejudgment interest, and financial penalties, against each of them.