WHEN PONZIS COLLIDE: Receiver’s Probe Into Commodities Online LLC ‘Severely Delayed And Impeded’ By ‘Noncooperation’; Federal Judge Orders James Clark Howard III And Sutton Capital LLC To Disgorge $1.45 Million; Firm That Listed AdSurfDaily Figure (And ‘Surf’s Up’ Mod) As ‘Director’ Sued Howard In 2010
A federal judge in Florida has ordered a convicted narcotics and firearms felon who emerged as a central figure in a Ponzi scheme case after his release from prison to disgorge $1.45 million.
The order, signed Aug. 23 by U.S. District Judge Patricia A. Seitz, applies to James Clark Howard III and Sutton Capital LLC.
Howard, a co-managing member of Commodities Online LLC, “directed” that $1.3 million in investor funds from Commodities Online be wired to Sutton Capital, “his wholly owned limited liability company,” Seitz found.
In the 1990s, Howard was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison on cocaine and weapons charges. He also was implicated last year in a separate fraud scheme targeting Haitian Americans.
The SEC sued Commodities Online in March, alleging that the firm was selling unregistered securities and operating an international commodities fraud from South Florida.
Seitz found that the $1.3 million transaction was recorded on the books of Commodities Online as a “loan” to Sutton, “even though no evidence has been found establishing a promissory note, interest rate or terms of repayment.”
The $1.3 million transaction occurred on Feb. 9, 2010, Seitz found.
On Feb. 18, 2010, Howard directed another $150,000 be transferred from Commodities Online to Sutton, Seitz found. She now has ordered Howard and Sutton to return the entire amount of $1.45 million from both transactions, saying they “remain in possession and control of these investor funds.”
Separately, David S. Mandel, the court-appointed receiver in the Commodities Online case, said aspects of his investigation have been “severely delayed and impeded by the noncooperation of the majority of the former officers of the Defendants.”
Although Commodities Online may own iron ore in Mexico, efforts to get at the truth have been hampered “due to the current nature of business in Mexico, and in particular, the iron ore business, which at times can be unsafe, unreliable and uncertain,” Mandel said.
In court filings, Mandel said that he has “received information that others have been purporting to act on the Defendants’ behalf in Mexico.” Mandel hired local counsel in Mexico, an attorney who is a citizen of Mexico and an international security firm to peel back layers of the onion and to protect receivership assets.
A forensic accounting of Commodities Online and thousands of transactions is ongoing, Mandel said.
One phase of the forensic accounting involved 9,500 transactions and 35 bank accounts “maintained at various financial institutions,” Mandel said.
An updated analysis of records shows that Commodities Online gathered nearly $12 million from “insiders and related parties” between January 2010 and April 2011, and paid the insiders and related parties more than $20.2 million.
All in all, the scheme gathered more than $35 million, according to the analysis.
Howard was arrested by the Boca Raton Police Department in a separate scheme targeting Haitian Americans on March 5, 2010.
About six months later — in September 2010 — he was sued by a Nevada company that listed former AdSurfDaily member and Surf’s Up moderator Terralynn Hoy as a director.
The Nevada company — SSH2 Acquisitions Inc. — alleged that Howard was part of a Ponzi scheme that also involved Patricia Saa, Sutton Capital LLC and Rapallo Investment Group LLC.
Howard and the defendants, according to the lawsuit, told SSH2 it was trading in commodities and “would produce profits of 40% per month or more, while not risking any of the invested funds.”
In its lawsuit, SSH2 alleged that its dealings with Howard and the others began in “early 2009″ and continued through March 2010.
If SSH2′s assertions against Howard and the others are true, it means the transactions occurred during a period in which Hoy, later to emerge as an SSH2 director, also was moderating cheerleading forums for ASD and the AdViewGlobal autosurf.
Surf’s Up became infamous for deleting commentary unflattering to ASD President Andy Bowdoin and links members left to outside sources of information. The forum mysteriously vanished in January 2010, after cheerleading for Bowdoin and ASD nonstop for more than a year.
AdViewGlobal, which collapsed in June 2010, purported to operate from Uruguay and enjoy protection from U.S. regulators because of a purported “private association” structure. ASD was implicated by the U.S. Secret Service in August 2008 in an alleged $110 million Ponzi scheme. Bowdoin was arrested on charges of wire fraud, securities fraud and selling unregistered securities in December 2010.
Former moderators of Surf’s Up, which unabashedly cheered for Bowdoin and received ASD’s official endorsement in November 2008, just days after a key court ruling in a civil-forfeiture case went against Bowdoin and ASD, largely have been silent since the January 2010 disappearance of Surf’s Up.
It is not known if individual ASD members also invested money with Howard. What is known is that many ASD members did not skip a beat after the Secret Service moved against ASD in August 2008. Within days, some ASD members were promoting other autosurf schemes, HYIP schemes and cash-gifting schemes, positioning them as a way ASD members could make up their ASD losses.
Hoy has not been accused of wrongdoing. Court filings and other records suggest that Hoy could have been conducting business with firms (ASD, Sutton and Rapallo) and individuals (Bowdoin, Howard and Saa) who were running separate Ponzi schemes involving at least $149 million and perhaps more.
SSH2, with Hoy as a director, alleged that it was scammed by Howard, Sutton and Saa, and plowed$39 million into their Ponzi. The firm accused the defendants of selling unregistered securities and causing at least $19 million in damages. It specifically accused Howard and the other defendants of not revealing that Howard was a convicted felon.
As a Surf’s Up moderator, however, Hoy presided over a forum that overlooked or pooh-pooed matters pertaining to the alleged ASD Ponzi, ASD’s alleged sale of unregistered securities to thousands of people internationally and Andy Bowdoin’s previous encounters with law enforcement in fraud cases.
In October 2008, at the conclusion of an evidentiary hearing, Surf’s Up held an online party for Bowdoin, who’d been charged with felonies in an Alabama securities caper in the 1990s and avoided jail by agreeing to make restitution to investors he defrauded. The party was conducted during an active criminal investigation into Bowdoin’s conduct at ASD.
A federal prosecutor was derided as “Gomer Pyle” on Surf’s Up. He also was described as a “goon” and a person who should be made to suffer in a medieval torture rack. Critics were described as “rats” and “maggots.”
The party was conducted despite the fact the Secret Service had alleged that one of Bowdoin’s business partners had been implicated by the SEC in the 1990s in three prime-bank schemes.