Tag Archives: scams

An Open Letter about Comments Regarding Richard Simring

Our post on The Rise and Fall of Richard B. Simring, Esq. has gotten a lot of attention.  It has also generated a lot of comments – some of which we’ve posted and some we haven’t — and we want to address these comments in this “open letter.”

We do not know Richard Simring.  We wrote about him because we found his story compelling and perhaps instructive.  A large part of what makes Simring’s story compelling is its moral ambiguity – before his current troubles stemming from his invovement in Ed Okun’s 1031 exchange scam, Simring had an admirable record of achievement and community service, yet he was indicted for (and pled guilty to) participating in a fraudulent scheme that stole millions of dollars from innocent people.

We encourage comments on Richard Simring, as on any other topic.  But we have some minimal conditions that must be met for a comment to be posted.

Here are some guidelines:

Do not use all capital letters.  No one wants to be shouted at, in life or in print.  We do not want our comments section to degenerate into shouting, flaming, and name-calling.

Do not repeat the same opinion over and over. There is no reason to post a comment that simply repeats what you’ve said before. 

Do not libel anyone.

Tell us why you care, and tell us why we should care about your comment.  If you have some inside information or some special insight, let us (and our readers) know.  If you have personal knowledge of the situation or the people involved, share that will us, and be specific.

We hope this explains why some comments have been posted and some not, and that we’ve provided you with guidelines for future comments on our blog.

Thanks.

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UPDATE: Richard Simring Pleads Guilty — Set to Testify Against Ed Okun

Richard B. Simring, the attorney charged with mail fraud and money laundering in the 1031 exchange scam led by Ed Okun, has pled guilty and agreed to testify against Okun.

According to a report in the ABA Journal based on a story in the National Law Journal, Simring “entered the plea in July in the Eastern District of Virginia, but few were aware of the development… Simring has agreed to testify against the businessman, billionaire Ed Okun, as part of the deal, Simring’s lawyer, Brian Tannebaum, told the National Law Journal. Simring faces up to five years in prison.”

The article in theNational Law Journal provides a few more details:

“Simring took the plea deal, in which he faces a possible five years in prison and must testify against his former boss, before a grand jury could indict him, according to his lawyer, Brian Tannebaum of Miami’s Tannebaum Weiss. ‘He’s taking responsibility for what the government says he did,’ Tannebaum said. ‘He didn’t want to roll the dice and face… a jury’.”

“Facing 12 to 14 years in prison and having just become a father for the second time, Simring pleaded guilty, said Tannebaum. He’s agreed to testify against Okun and faces a maximum five years in prison.  Tannebaum said Simring — who has no record of Bar complaints or crime — regrets going to work for Okun. ‘If he had it to do all over again he wouldn’t make the same choices,’ Tannebaum said.”

“Simring has notified the Florida Bar of his charges and agreed to temporarily stop practicing law. The Bar will appoint a referee to determine whether to impose any disciplinary action, which sources say will likely mean suspension.”

A Simple Way to Avoid Getting Scammed

When we read CNN’s story about the FBI’s investigation of a massive Ponzi scheme operated out of the University of Miami, what struck us as most instructive was the statement from one of the scam’s victims that he had been promised an 18 percent return on his short-term investment.

The victim, Victor Gonzalez, said he put more than $3.5 million into the scheme.

Here is a simple rule to follow if you want to avoid being scammed:

Do not believe someone who promises you an 18 percent return on a short term investment.

The Rise and Fall of Richard B. Simring, Esq.

Richard B. Simring is not someone you would expect to be charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering in a multi-million dollar scam.

Simring was a rising legal star and a well respected leader in his community.

The son of an attorney, Simring was valedictorian at Hollywood Hills High School in Florida, a magna cum laud graduate of Princeton University in 1988 and a 1991 summa cum laud graduate of George Washington University Law School.  

Following law school, Simring served as law clerk for Rosemary Barkett, the former Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court.  He then developed a successful legal practice in the areas of insurance, banking, and securities, specializing in complex business litigation and winning multi-million dollar verdicts. He represented banks, insurance companies, and financial institutions in reinsurance and insurance disputes, bad faith claims, state and federal RICO actions, securities class actions and broker/dealer arbitrations.  He became a partner in the prestigious law firm Stroock, Stroock & Lavan and then in the law firm Jorden Burt.

Simring actively used his success to benefit others.  He was a prominent figure at Miami fundraising events; charities, schools, and professional organizations were proud to have Richard B. Simring on their side.

He served as Chairman of the Board of Voices for Children Foundation, Inc., a Miami charity that raises money to advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children. He often spoke to legal and community groups about representing abused children in court.  He contributed to the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, and he served on the board of directors for Educate Tomorrow, an international charity that works to make education an attainable goal for the disadvantaged in Miami and throughout the world, with particular efforts in the impoverished African nation of Niger. He took an active part in Princeton alumni organizations. He donated money to his law school and served as a volunteer on its advisory board of directors. 

Then he met Ed Okun.

According to the federal indictment, Simring first came into contact with Okun in November 2006, when Okun consulted him about legal issues involving the transfer of client funds in Okun’s 1031 Tax Group LLP (1031TG), a 1031 exchange qualified intermediary scam operated by Okun. 

The indictment does not claim that Simring knew that 1031TG was a scam, or that Simring thought that Okun wanted anything other than legitimate legal help in making sure that his activities were lawful. 

In fact, the indictment states that Simring conducted a legitmate and independent investigation of Okun’s activities with 1031TG and told Okun that they were illegal and needed to be halted until the exchange agreements were changed to allow the transfer of client funds and there were sufficient assets to cover client exchanges as they came due.  Simring also told Okun that doing this would not rectify what Okun had done in the past, but only reduce the liklihood of criminal charges.  Okun told Simring that he would follow his advice and change the exchange agreements and pay back the client exchange funds.  Simring then told Okun that if he failed to do this, he would probably go to jail.

A month later, Okun hired Simring as the Chief Legal Officer for Okun Holdings.  Simring was to be paid a salary of $850,000 and given a signing bonus of $100,000.

The indictment then alleges that in March 2007 Simring became aware that Okun had not followed any of his advice and was continuing to transfer millions of dollars from client exchange accounts into his personal bank account.  Simring also learned that 1031TG was on the brink of insolvency. Simring then “confronted” Okun. Okun assured Simring that he was fixing the problems and was in the process of paying back 1031TG.

By April 2007, the financial situation of 1031TG had become dire and Okun’s scam was on the verge of coming part.  1031TG was no longer able to fund exchanges or pay back clients. And the people whose money Okun had taken were calling and demanding explanations.

This appears to be the point at which Simring went from being Okun’s attorney to his co-conspirator.

According to the indictment, Simring now participated with Okun and others in lying to clients, telling them that their funds were secure.  Now also Simring apparently joined Okun in attempting a “holding action” against client inquiries and complaints, including making “lulling” payments to clients with money misappropriated from other clients.

In late April 2007, 1031TG’s CEO resigned and Okun appointed Simring as interim CEO.  Okun then directed Simring to transfer approximately $8,000,000 in client funds into Okun’s personal bank accounts.  According to the indictment, Simring complied.

Three days later, Simring resigned.

Why did Richard Simring become a co-conspirator of scammer Ed Okun?  Why didn’t he walk away once he learned that Okun wasn’t following his advice and continuing to engage in criminal activity?

Perhaps it was the money — although it seems that Simring had no trouble making money legally.

Perhaps he was caught up in his client’s bunker mentality once it was clear that the enterprise was collapsing.

Or perhaps Simring fell under the spell of Okun’s swindler charm.

We will likely never know why Richard B. Simring, Esq., legal star and community leader, appears to have thrown away his career, his honor, and the respect of his colleages and community.

He may not know himself.

UPDATE:

Read Richard Simring Pleads Guilty — Set to Testify Against Ed Okun.

UPDATE:

Read Wachovia Sued for Millions in 1031 Exchange Fraud.

Here’s a New Foreclosure Scam that might be Socially Useful

Here’s a new twist on foreclosure scams, and proof that every crisis creates opportunities for those with initiative and imagination. 

With foreclosures rising, many neighborhoods have vacant houses with absentee landlords — that is, banks and lending institutions — who don’t visit their properties very often.  

In fact, the number of vacant homes in the United States is now at a record 2.28 million — up from 2.18 million in the same quarter last year — and still on the rise.

At the same time, the foreclosure crisis has greatly increased the number of people who are looking for housing to rent.

The banks usually don’t want to bother with rental issues, so desirable housing goes unused even as the demand increases.

Two enterprising men from Orange County, California — Anthony Marshall Friday and Alexander Braslavsky — apparently came up with an ingenious solution to this problem — and a potentially profitable one.

Here’s the idea:

Why not rent out vacant foreclosed houses as if they belonged to you?

Then you would be providing people with places to live, cutting down on eyesores and the crime that often afflicts foreclosed properties, and make a handsome profit for yourself.

Of course, you could get caught…

The Orange County Register reports that:

“Two men have been arrested for allegedly posing as landlords of homes that they don’t own and collecting thousands of dollars from unsuspecting renters. Police Sgt. Keith Blackburn says officers found 34-year-old Alexander Braslavsky and 38-year-old Anthony Marshall Friday at a vacant foreclosed home in the city of Carlsbad. The two Orange County men are accused of breaking into the house and listing it for rent on the Web site Craigslist.”

“Police found paperwork at the house that showed the men had collected several thousand dollars in rent and security deposits from people who thought they were renting the home.  Blackburn says police learned that the men pulled the same scam days earlier at another vacant house.”

The report didn’t say what will happen to the people who “rented” the houses — or whether the banks will let them stay so long as they pay the rent.

Greed, Power and Sex: Con-Artist with “Vatican” Connections Indicted for Scamming the Rich and Famous

Here’s a story about greed, power and sex that’s a mixture of The Da Vinci Code, Bonfire of the Vanities, Moliere’s Tartuffe and Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man

It is about a scam and a scammer.

We’ve written about scams and how to avoid them

We don’t like scammers, especially those who prey on the desperate and the vulnerable, such as people facing foreclosure. 

But sometimes a scammer is so outrageous, so inventive, so over-the-top, and his victims so well-heeled and incredulous, that we have to admit at least an ambivalent admiration.

One such scammer is Raffaello Follieri, one of the very few scammers we’ve seen who deserves the name con-artist.

Follieri’s story reads more like a novel than a crime report.

For months, Americans who were in-the-know knew Follieri as a suave and sophisticated Italian businessman, real estate mogul, socialite, philanthropist, and Vatican representative.

He was none of these, except Italian.

Using charm, good looks, unbelievable gall, and a network of gullible and greedy New York socialites, Washington insiders and Hollywood A-list connections, Follieri moved easily in exclusive circles of money, power, and glamor. He lived in a $40,000 a month Fifth Avenue apartment and travelled the world, going to parties, conferring with the Pope (he said), and receiving awards for his generosity. 

Among those who fell under Follieri’s spell was actress Anne Hathaway.

Another was billionaire entrepreneur Ron Burkle, Burkle’s investment business Yucaipa Companies LLC, as well as Burkle’s friend, former President Bill Clinton.

Then the scam collapsed.

According to the New York Times,  “Raffaello Follieri, from San Giovanni Rotondo on the spur of Italy’s boot, is alive and kicking in his $40,000-a-month duplex on Fifth Avenue. Age 29, he used empty claims of church ties to befriend Douglas Band, a top aide to Bill Clinton. Band then smoothed the way to Clinton’s moneyed entourage, including the California billionaire Ronald Burkle.”

“Mr. Follieri received an onstage thanks from Mr. Clinton after pledging $50 million to the Clinton Global Initiative. The money has not been paid.”

“Mr. Follieri’s business cachet — his link to the Catholic Church — was contrived, the government said. It consisted of an administrative employee at the Vatican whom he paid.”

“Mr. Follieri also hired a relative of a former Vatican official as well as his own father, claiming that his father had a special relationship with the Vatican. In an apparent effort to build ostensible ties to the church, Mr. Follieri also met with clergy and traveled with a monsignor.”

In another story, the Times further explains that “Attractive and charming, [Follieri] rapidly moved into the world of billionaires and political figures. His entree was helped when he met and befriended Douglas Band, a top aide to Bill Clinton who brought Mr. Follieri into contact with the former president and Mr. Burkle.”

“That relationship birthed the unhappy union of Burkle’s Yucaipa investment operation, of which Clinton is a senior adviser, and the Follieri Group in a venture to acquire Catholic Church property Follieri said he’d get on the cheap.”

“From mid-2005, Burkle plowed $55.6 million into this enterprise, only to conclude Follieri was devoting a chunk of it to good living. A suit filed by Yucaipa in Delaware in May contends Follieri has been ‘systematically misappropriating the assets’ to indulge in ‘massive charges for five-star lodging’, ‘dog care’ and ‘inappropriate jet travel’ for himself and ‘his actress girlfriend’.  That’s Anne Hathaway, of The Devil Wears Prada.”

Burkle’s lawsuit against Follieri was dismissed after Follieri agreed to pay back more than $1.3 million.

Then, last week, Follieri was arrested in New York and charged with 12 counts of fraud and money laundering.  He could get life in prison.

The charges against Follieri include:

  • Six counts of wire fraud and each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
  • Five counts of money laundering with each count  carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail.
  • One count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 5 years behind bars.

According to the press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, “From June 2005 through June 2007, FOLLIERI ran a fraudulent real estate investment scheme, falsely claiming that he had close connections with the Vatican that enabled him to purchase Catholic Church properties in the United States at a substantial discount. FOLLIERI claimed that the Vatican formally appointed him to manage its financial affairs and that he met with the Pope in person when he visited Rome, Italy.”

“In reality, FOLLIERI’s connections consisted of an administrative employee at the Vatican who was paid by FOLLIERI; FOLLIERI’s hiring of a relative of a former Vatican official; meetings with clergy, FOLLIERI’s travels with monsignors; and a reporter for a news publication in Italy. None of these connections entitled FOLLIERI to purchase Church real estate at below-market rates.”

“Based on his fraudulent representations about his ties to the Vatican, FOLLIERI was able to access and misappropriate hundreds of thousands of dollars in investor money to live a luxurious lifestyle, including expensive restaurants and clothes;dog walking services; an opulent apartment in Manhattan that leased for approximately $37,000 per month, overlooked Rockefeller Center, and had views of Central Park; medical expenses for his girlfriend at the time and his parents,including a “house call” by FOLLIERI’s physician which cost privately chartered airplanes to various locations around the world.”

“In addition, FOLLIERI stole money from an investor by falsely claiming, among other things, that FOLLIERI needed money for an office in Italy that did not exist, and claimed that he spent over $800,000 for “engineering reports” relating to real estate that did not reflect engineering work and were almost worthless. FOLLIERI caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulently obtained proceeds to be wired to a bank account in Monaco that he controlled in order to hide and conceal the source and control of the funds. From late 2006 through early 2007,FOLLIERI’s scheme started to unravel, and FOLLIERI’s principal investor cut its ties to FOLLIERI and fired him.”

The Times reports that “Judge Henry B. Pitman set bail at $21 million, to be secured by $16 million in cash and property and guaranteed by five financially responsible persons. Mr. Follieri had to surrender all travel documents and was ordered confined to his home in Manhattan with the exception of legal, religious and medical needs. Any trips must be made with an electronic-monitoring device.”

And Anne Hathaway has gotten smart and is no longer taking his phone calls.

 

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.