NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday said it won a court order freezing the assets of China Voice Holding Corp, and accused a co-founder of the telecommunications company of running an $8.6 million Ponzi scheme.
In a lawsuit, the SEC said China Voice, former Chief Executive William Burbank, 52, former Chief Financial Officer David Ronald Allen, 60, and others fraudulently overstated the company’s financial condition and business activity in China.
“Since at least 2006, China Voice, Allen, Burbank and others have made false and misleading public statements about China Voice, to maintain the facade of a prosperous company, while masking the unjust enrichment of the principals,” the complaint filed in the U.S. district court in Dallas said.
The SEC said the Ponzi scheme involved false promises made to investors by Allen and two accomplices: Alex Dowlatshahi, 36, and Christopher Mills, 34.
According to the regulator, the men promised investors annual returns of least 25 percent with “minimal risk” on investments in at least 16 limited partnerships.
Instead, the SEC said they used money to repay investors in earlier partnerships, fund China Voice and other companies that Allen controls, and enrich themselves and family members.
The SEC also accused shareholders Gerald Patera, 69, and Ilya Drapkin, 34, of helping Allen finance promotions to drive up China Voice’s share price, including a “blast fax” campaign, and dumping millions of China Voice shares onto the market.
“This fraud illustrates that when extraordinarily high returns are promised in a supposedly low-risk investment, that’s a tell-tale sign that something likely is amiss,” said Stephen Cohen, an associate director in the SEC enforcement division, in a statement.
The SEC and other regulators have in recent years spent more resources cracking down on alleged Ponzi schemes after failing to uncover Bernard Madoff’s fraud faster.
A China Voice spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking a comment. Calls to Allen’s and Burbank’s homes were not answered. Patera said “I‘m shocked” at the lawsuit. Drapkin was not immediately available for comment. Dowlatshahi and Mills could not be reached.
China Voice is based in Boca Raton, Florida. More than 20 defendants are named in the lawsuit. Several have ties to Texas, where the lawsuit was filed.
The lawsuit seeks to impose civil fines, bar Allen and Burbank from participating in penny stock offerings or serving as corporate officers and directors, and other remedies.
The case is SEC v. Allen et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas, No. 11-00882.
For the SEC: Jane Peterson, Carolyn Welshhans, David Herman, Jennifer Leete, Toby Galloway and Stephen Cohen.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel