Tag Archives: ponzi

Windfall for Lender – Or Will Natural Gas Discovery Benefit Victims of Ed Okun’s 1031 Tax Group Scam?

There’s a new ripple in the story of indicted 1031 exchange scammer Edward Okun, the 1031 Tax Group, and their victims.

Cordell Funding is a Miami-based hard money mortgage lender. Last fall, Cordell Funding sued Okun to recover $17 million it had loaned to Okun before his fraud-riddled real estate empire collapsed into bankruptcy actions and criminal indictments.

Cordell Funding initially sued Okun in a New York state court, but a federal judge transferred the suit to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, where Gerard McHale, the court-appointed Chapter 11 trustee of Okun’s 1031 Tax Group, was selling off Okun’s assets.

As part of that bankruptcy case, McHale turned over the rights to several Okun properties to Cordell. One of the properties that McHale turned over to Cordell was the Shreveport Industrial Park, a nearly empty 42-year-old, 956,735-square-foot Class C industrial distribution building at 9595 Mansfield Road in Shreveport, Louisiana.

It wasn’t worth much — certainly not the $17 million that Cordell said it was owed by Okun.

Then natural gas was discovered in the area. 

In fact, it was discovered that under the Shreveport Industrial Park is the largest onshore natural gas field in North America.   It could hold as much as 20 trillion cubic-feet equivalent of natural gas reserves.

The mineral rights lease for the Sheveport Industrial Park is now valued at somewhere between $30 and $60 million.

And property values for the area have soared.

It looks like Cordell Funding got a windfall from the bankruptcy court. 

But when the natural gas field was discovered, bankruptcy trustee McHale went back to court to have the bankruptcy judge of the 1031 Tax Group vacate the order giving Cordell Funding rights to the Shreveport property. At the same time, McHale has asked the bankruptcy judge to approve a mineral rights lease with PetroHawk Energy for the benefit of the 1031 Tax Group victims.

Now whether Cordell Funding or the hundreds of creditors of the 1031 Tax Group gets the millions of dollars from the Shreveport natural gas discovery will be determined by the bankruptcy court.

UPDATE:

For the latest on Ed Okun (new federal indictments, plus the indictments of Laura Coleman and Richard B. Simring), click here.

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Don’t Get Scammed! — 10 Tips to Avoid Getting Ripped Off by Real Estate and Foreclosure Investment Scams

There are a lot of real estate scams out there and many of them are now offering the bait of making easy money in the foreclosure market.

Scammers like to run with the hot trend — and right now the hot trend in real estate is foreclosures and distressed property.

Of course, there is money to be made by investing in distressed and foreclosed real estate.

But as with any other kind of investing, making money in distressed property and foreclosures requires significant expertise and experience and adequate capitalization. 

Before you trust your money to a stranger who tells you he has a sure-fire way to make lots of cash by investing in the hot, once-in-a-lifetime foreclosure and distressed property market, make sure that he has the expertise and experience and the capital (not just yours!) to back up his claims.

Here are 10 tips to avoid being taken in by scammers who promise you quick and easy returns on your real estate investment:

1. Be very skeptical and ask lots of questions. 

2. Get the names of the people who will be running the investment fund.  In particular, get the names of the people who will be making the investment decisions.  Demand that they tell you their business and investment track record and that they provide you with documentation of their claims. 

3. Check their qualifications.  Make sure that they are licensed securities or real estate professionals and not just telemarketers. 

4. Research all the names you get.  Use the Internet.  Do a google search for the investment fund and for anyone involved in the fund or business.  Search for their names and the name of the investment fund on scam.com, the Securities Fraud Search Engine, and  other community web sites and bulletin boards, as well as the Better Business Bureau.  Also check their names with your state Attorney General and the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Carefully read the online material on telemarketing fraud put out by the U.S. Department of Justice. 

5. Find out whether the people raising the money for the investment fund are licensed securities brokers.  If not, don’t invest.  You can check their broker status here.

6. Before you invest, get the advice of people you trust.  Ask your attorney, your real estate broker, your financial advisor, and your adult children what they think about the investment.  On the other hand, avoid pressure from relatives and friends to invest in “can’t miss” schemes.

7. Get all promises or claims in writing and save copies of the paperwork. Verbal agreements don’t mean anything. Demand documents and then review them carefully.  Ask your attorney, your real estate broker, your financial advisor, and your adult children to review them as well.  Even when you get promises in writing, remain skeptical, especially regarding revenue projections.  At best, these projections are guesses; at worst, they’re outright lies.  Be particularly skeptical about projections in a business plan.  Remember that a business plan is not a legal document — you can put anything you want in a business plan and scammers always do.

8. Take your time before deciding whether to invest.  Scammers use lots of tactics to pressure you to make a decision.  Don’t let anyone rush you into an investment.  If they tell you, “only a few lucky investors can get in, so you must act right away,” it is almost certainly a scam.

9. Demand to know how much of your investment, or the total fund raise, is actually going to purchase property and how much is going to pay the people who are raising the money.  Don’t trust any investment where more than 10-15 percent of the total raise is going into the pockets of the fund-raisers. 

10. Live by the rule: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.  If someone tells you that there is a “guaranteed return on your investment,”  it is almost certain that you should invest your money somewhere else.  Scammers play on greed and fear.  Deals that promise exceptional returns — and deals that must be done now — are the hallmarks of a scam.

 

$23 Million Settlement Reached with UBS in 1031 Exchange Scam Lawsuit

The plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit who allege they lost over $80 million that they had placed with Southwest Exchange, Inc. (SWX) and several other 1031 exchange accommodators or qualified intermediaries (QIs) have reached a settlement with one of the defendants, UBS Financial Services, Inc. (UBS).

You can read our earlier post about the lawsuit here.

Under the terms of the settlement, the plaintiffs will receive $23 million from UBS.

The settlement was approved by the court on March 28, 2008, and a notice was sent to the class action plaintiffs on April 2, 2008.

You can read the settlement notice sent by the law firm of Hollister & Brace here.

UBS is one of several defendants who are alleged to have participated with Donald Kay McGahn and and others in a scheme to steal the money that had been entrusted to them to facilitate tax deferred 1031 exchanges.

In addition to UBS, the plaintiffs claim that other major financial firms, including Citigroup and Salomon Smith Barney, participated in the scheme.

A criminal investigation continues.

UPDATE:

For more on UBS, click here.

Lawsuit Claims $80 Million Stolen in 1031 Exchange Scheme

More 1031 exchange accommodators are in very hot water.

And millions of dollars that people thought were going to be used for 1031 exchanges are missing.

Last week, Edward Okun and others were indicted in a 1031 exchange intermediary scheme that is alleged to have defauded clients of approximately $132 million.

A class action lawsuit has been filed in the California Superior Court of Santa Barbara County alleging that 130 people from 12 states lost over $80 million that they had placed with Southwest Exchange, Inc. (SWX) and several other 1031 exchange accommodators or qualified intermediaries (QIs).

The QIs are alleged to have been taken over by Donald Kay McGhan and other individuals with the purpose of stealing the money that had been entrusted to them to facilitate tax deferred 1031 exchanges.

The lawsuit claims that a “group of thieves discovered that these Exchange Accommodators were unregulated businesses holding large sums of cash that needed ready access to only a small percentage of the money to operate as going concerns. Pursuant to a conspiracy, these thieves purchased several Exchange Accommodators, gained access to their funds held in trust with the assistance of certain brokerage houses, stole the majority of those funds for personal gain, and caused over $80,000,000 in damages which was exposed when the real estate market finally cooled.”

According to the lawsuit, money held in trust by SWX was funneled to shell companies that Santa Barbara businessman Donald Kay McGhan set up to launder the funds, which were then withdrawn for his and his accomplices’ benefit.

The plaintiffs claim that the exchange accomodators were operated as a ponzi scheme by Donald Kay McGhan and his alleged accomplices.

Because the real estate market was hot in 2004 and 2005, money coming in for new 1031 exchanges could be used to cover funds deposited for previous exchanges that McGhan and his cohorts had already raided.

When the real estate market suddenly cooled at the end of 2005, the number of 1031 transactions declined and not enough money was coming in to cover the embezzled funds, according to the suit.

By April 2006, the scheme began to unravel as SWX faced liquidity problems, the lawsuit states, and by October 2006, approximately $80 million was missing from the trust funds.

The QI defendants in the lawsuit include Southwest Exchange, Inc. (SWX), doing business as Southwest Exchange Corporation and Southwest 1031 Exchange, and Qualified Exchange Services, Inc. (QES).

Individual defendants include Donald Kay McGhan, Jim J. McGhan, Dean A. Koch, Nikki M. Pomeroy, Albert Conton, Peter John Demarigny, Kyleen M. Dawson, and Megan L. Amsler.

Donald Kay McGhan, 73, was the founder, chairman, and president of the McGhan Medical Corporation, maker of silicone breast implants and for many years one of the Santa Barbara’s top employers. McGhan left the company, now called Inamed Aesthetics, in 1998, and the company later settled a fraud suit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that McGhan had filed false financial statements that misled investors.  McGhan himself paid a $50,000 fine to the SEC.

Additional corporate defendants include Capital Reef Management Corp., Cennedig LLC, Medicor LTD, International Integrated Industries LLC, Ventana Coast LLC, and Sirius Capital LLC.

The plaintiffs also claim that major financial firms Citigroup, Salomon Smith Barney, and UBS Financial Services participated in the scheme.

There is also an ongoing criminal investigation.

You can see the complaint here.

Our advice:

If you’re planning to do a 1031 exchange, make sure that you perform due diligence in your choice of a QI or exchange accomodator, make sure that the QI is bonded, and make sure that you work with an experienced tax advisor and attorney who can help you navigate the 1031 exchange process. 

And, as we’ve said before, it is imperative that the Federation of Exchange Accomodators (FEA) work more closely with state and federal authorities to establish regulations for QIs that will restore and maintain public confidence.

UPDATE:

A $23 million settlement has been reached with UBS Financial Services, one of the defendants in the plaintiffs’ class action lawsuit.  You can read our post about the settlement here.