MOST UN-’WISE’: 2 Ponzi Schemers Ride Their Wordplay To Prison Sentences Totaling More Than 33 Years; Judge Declares Crime ‘Evil’
It was a Ponzi scheme involving a purported expert, a shill and at least $17 million — and it featured wordplay: A business entity known as TREBOR got its name from spelling “Robert” backward, and WISE was a limited-liability company that stood for Wise Investors Simply Excel. Now, TREBORS’s namesake Robert C. Brown Jr., 59, of Vallejo, Calif., has been sentenced to 15 years and eight months in federal prison.
Meanwhile, Duane Allen Eddings, 52, of San Francisco, has been sentenced to 17 years and six months. Federal prosecutors said Ponzi cash was funneled through a WISE account he opened, setting the stage for money-laundering to occur through an account Eddings controlled in the name of CDC Global Inc. He is listed in records as the managing member of WISE, and prosecutors said he effectively was shilling for Brown by painting him as a stock-market “expert.”
Eddings was found guilty by a jury last year on Ponzi-related charges of money-laundering, wire fraud, bankruptcy fraud and tax evasion. Ponzi colleague Brown pleaded guilty to wire fraud.
In bringing a civil action in 2008, the SEC said investors believed Brown would invest their money in the stock market. But most of the funds never were invested.
Instead, “Brown deposited investors’ money into accounts that he treated like personal piggy banks, using the money to pay for luxurious personal expenses such as upkeep on his Ferrari, limousine services, and expensive shopping trips with his girlfriend,” the SEC alleged in 2008.
After the SEC brought its 2008 civil case, Brown and Eddings were charged criminally in 2009. The investigation that led to the charges was conducted by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and IRS-Criminal Investigation.
False statements and omitted details critical to prudent investment decisions were part of the Brown/Eddings scam, prosecutors charged.
Eddings showcased his wealth to investors, claiming Brown was the “expert” who made it possible, prosecutors said.
As the probe moved forward, however, investigators discovered that Eddings had invested only $1,000 with Brown and had been using investor cash to live the high life by funneling client money that did not belong to him through WISE — and then transferring it to the CDC Global account to make personal purchases.
“In sentencing Brown, [U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez] expressed sympathy to the victims stating, ‘This is a crime among the worst that I see,’” prosecutors said. “And he said that what Brown had done to his victims was ‘evil.’ Judge Mendez later said that this comment applied equally to Eddings. He further said that he was not convinced that the defendants were ‘no longer a danger to the public.’”
About 400 victims were defrauded by the Brown/Eddings Ponzi, which operated between September 2005 and May 2007, prosecutors said.
Making matters worse was that Brown and Eddings “encouraged investors to raise additional funds by taking out mortgages and home equity lines of credit on their homes,” prosecutors said.
“Many” investors lost their homes, prosecutors said.
In reverse-engineering the complex caper involving Brown and Eddings, investigators discovered that “Edding’s personal spending habits led to the collapse of the Ponzi scheme” and that Eddings had grossly understated his taxable income during one of Ponzi years and claimed to have a taxable income of zero during two of the years.
Some of the Ponzi money went to “lulling payments to earlier investors” in a failed bid to keep the scheme afloat and prevent its detection, prosecutors said.
“It can be devastating when the financial well-being of an individual falls into the wrong hands through trickery and deceit,” said Marcus Williams, special agent in charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation Unit.
Postal Inspector Oscar Villanueva described the Brown/Eddings scheme as “complex.”
“Fraud schemes like the one perpetrated in this case are devastating to victims,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner.