Tag Archives: ponzi scheme

Inspector General’s Madoff Report

SEC’s Madoff Investigation = Stunning Failure

As has been widely reported, the Inspector General has released a 450 page report on the SEC’s stunning failure to uncover the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme.  Below I have republished some of the more interesting items from the summary portion of the report (emphasis mine).  While we have heard many of the details before, the description of the “egregious” incompetence is still almost unbelievable.

To access the whole report, please see OIG Madoff Report.  Chairman Shapiro’s comments, reprinted below, can be found here.


Selected sections of the Inspector General’s summary

The OIG investigation did find, however, that the SEC received more than ample information in the form of detailed and substantive complaints over the years to warrant a thorough and comprehensive examination and/or investigation of Bernard Madoff and BMIS for operating a Ponzi scheme, and that despite three examinations and two investigations being conducted, a thorough and competent investigation or examination was never performed. The OIG found that between June 1992 and December 2008 when Madoff confessed, the SEC received six [arguably 8] substantive complaints that raised significant red flags concerning Madoff’s hedge fund operations and should have led to questions about whether Madoff was actually engaged in trading. Finally, the SEC was also aware of two articles regarding Madoff’s investment operations that appeared in reputable publications in 2001 and questioned Madoff’s unusually consistent returns.


One effort was made to verify Madoff’s trading with an independent third-party, but even after they received a very suspicious response, there was no follow-up. The Assistant Director sent a document request to a financial institution that Madoff claimed he used to clear his trades, requesting records for trading done by or on behalf of particular Madoff feeder funds during a specific time period. Shortly thereafter, the financial institution responded, stating there was no transaction activity in Madoff’s account for that period. Yet, the response did not raise a red flag for the Assistant Director, who merely assumed that Madoff must have “executed trades through the foreign broker-dealer.” The examiners did not recall ever being shown the response from the financial institution, and no further follow-up actions were taken.


At a crucial point in their investigation, the Enforcement staff was informed by a senior-level official from the NASD that they were not sufficiently prepared to take Madoff’s testimony, but they ignored his advice. On May 17, 2006, two days before they were scheduled to take Madoff’s testimony, the Enforcement staff attorney contacted the Vice President and Deputy Director of the NASD Amex Regulation Division to discuss Madoff’s options trading. The NASD official told the OIG that he answered “extremely basic questions” from the Enforcement staff about options trading. He also testified that, by the end of the call, he felt the Enforcement staff did not understand enough about the subject matter to take Madoff’s testimony. The NASD official also recalled telling the Enforcement staff that they “needed to do a little bit more homework before they were ready to talk to [Madoff],” but that they were intent on taking Madoff’s testimony as scheduled. He testified that when he and a colleague who was also on the call hung up, “we were both, sort of, shaking our heads, saying that, you know, it really seemed like some of these [options trading] strategies were over their heads.” Notwithstanding the advice, the Enforcement staff did not postpone Madoff’s testimony.


During his testimony, Madoff also told the Enforcement investigators that the trades for all of his advisory accounts were cleared through his account at DTC. He testified further that his advisory account positions were segregated at DTC and gave the Enforcement staff his DTC account number. During an interview with the OIG, Madoff stated that he had thought he was caught after his testimony about the DTC account, noting that when they asked for the DTC account number, “I thought it was the end game, over. Monday morning they’ll call DTC and this will be over . . . and it never happened.” Madoff further said that when Enforcement did not follow up with DTC, he “was astonished.”

This was perhaps the most egregious failure in the Enforcement investigation of Madoff; that they never verified Madoff’s purported trading with any independent third parties. As a senior-level SEC examiner noted, “clearly if someone … has a Ponzi and, they’re stealing money, they’re not going to hesitate to lie or create records” and, consequently, the “only way to verify” whether the alleged Ponzi operator is actually trading would be to obtain “some independent third-party verification” like “DTC.”

A simple inquiry to one of several third parties could have immediately revealed the fact that Madoff was not trading in the volume he was claiming.


The OIG summary concludes that:

As the foregoing demonstrates, despite numerous credible and detailed complaints, the SEC never properly examined or investigated Madoff’s trading and never took the necessary, but basic, steps to determine if Madoff was operating a Ponzi scheme. Had these efforts been made with appropriate follow-up at any time beginning in June of 1992 until December 2008, the SEC could have uncovered the Ponzi scheme well before Madoff confessed.

The OIG’s matter of fact concluding statement that “the SEC could have uncovered” the fraud rings hollow, especially for the people who lost life savings needlessly.


Chairman Shapiro’s Statement

Statement by SEC Chairman:
Statement on the Inspector General’s Report Regarding the Bernard Madoff Fraud
Chairman Mary L. Schapiro
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Washington, D.C.
September 4, 2009

Today we are releasing the Inspector General’s 450-page report regarding the Bernard Madoff fraud and the many missed opportunities to discover it.

As I stated earlier this week, it is a failure that we continue to regret, and one that has led us to reform in many ways how we regulate markets and protect investors.

In the coming weeks we will continue to closely review the full report and learn every lesson we can to help build upon the many reforms we have already put into place since January.

# # #

A list of the SEC’s many reforms undertaken is available at

The Inspector General’s report is available at

SEC Chairman Schapiro’s September 2 statement is available at



Other Hedge Fund Law Blog related to the Madoff scandal:

Hedge Fund Operational Issues and Failures

Hedge Fund Due Diligence Firm Releases White Paper

We’ve published a number of thoughtful pieces on this blog from Chris Addy, president and CEO of Castle Hall Alternatives (see, for example, article on Hedge Fund Auditors).  Today we are publishing a press release which announces a new white paper from Castle Hall detailing the various reasons which hedge funds fail.  The press release also describes a new web database called HedgeEvent which was created by Castle Hall and details a number of hedge fund operational failures over the last few years.

I found the white paper to be interesting.  I would imagine that some fund of funds and other types of hedge fund investors would find the information useful.  A couple of interesting facts from the whitepaper:

  • The most common causes of operational failure in hedge funds are (i) theft and misappropriation and (ii) existence of assets (i.e. Ponzi schemes).
  • Long/short equity and managed futures are the strategies which are most likely to be subject to operational failure.


Castle Hall Alternatives Publishes White Paper on Hedge Fund Operational Failures: Launches “HedgeEvent” Database

MONTREAL–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Castle Hall Alternatives, the hedge fund industry’s leading provider of operational due diligence, today published its latest White Paper, ‘From Manhattan to Madoff: the Causes and Lessons of Hedge Fund Operational Failure.’ The Paper’s analysis and findings are based on HedgeEvent, a comprehensive, web-based database of more than 300 operational events, now available to Castle Hall’s due diligence clients. HedgeEvent supplements HedgeDiligence, the firm’s existing client web portal.

The White Paper may be downloaded from www.castlehallalternatives.com/publications.php

Chris Addy, Castle Hall’s CEO, said “the colossal fraud perpetrated by Bernie Madoff, together with a number of other recent cases, has made investors acutely concerned by the risk of operational ‘blow ups’. However, there has been little systematic study of operational failure, meaning that investors have limited guidance as to the extent of this problem.”

“The creation of HedgeEvent, which has taken more than two years to compile, has enabled us to summarize key metrics related to hedge fund operational failure” said Addy. “From Manhattan to Madoff analyzes operational events by number, estimated loss, causal factor and by the strategy of the funds involved.”

HedgeEvent contains 327 cases of hedge fund operational failure through June 30, 2009. Madoff, with an estimated financial impact of $64 billion, is by far the largest; the remaining cases have an aggregate estimated financial impact of approximately $15 billion. Of the 327 operational events, 121 have an estimated impact of $10 million or more, and 31 of at least $100 million.

“While operational failures are material – Madoff spectacularly so – it does not seem that fraud is pervasive in the hedge fund industry” said Addy. “Investors should, however, be very focused on the lessons which can be learned from those hedge funds which did generate large losses. Many of these were well established firms which attracted capital from reputable investors.”

Across all Events, the most common causes of operational failure are theft and misappropriation followed by existence of assets (the manager claimed to own fake securities or operated a Ponzi scheme where reported assets did not exist). The most common strategies subject to operational failure are long / short equity followed by managed futures. It is notable that investors have traditionally viewed these strategies, holding largely exchange-traded securities, as straightforward with low operational risk.

“HedgeEvent is an invaluable tool for both Castle Hall and our clients” said Addy. “A lot can be learned from historical events: better knowledge can help investors avoid the losses, both monetary and reputational, of hedge fund operational failure.”

About Castle Hall Alternatives

Castle Hall Alternatives helps leading institutional investors, fund of funds, family offices and endowments identify and manage hedge fund operational risk. Castle Hall’s team draws on more than 30 years of direct due diligence experience and is the industry’s largest, dedicated provider of operational due diligence. More information is available at www.castlehallalternatives.com


Castle Hall Alternatives
Chris Addy, President and CEO, +1 450 465 8880
[email protected]


Other related hedge fund law and start up articles include:

For more information, please call Bart Mallon, Esq. at 415-296-8510

CFTC Uncovers More Frauds and Ponzi Schemes

This week alone the Commodities Futures Trading Commission issued 5 separate press releases regarding various frauds and ponzi schemes.   As we have noted many times before investors should make sure they conduct adequate due diligence into their managers.  It also goes without saying, but managers should not engage in fraudulent conduct, make misrepresentations to investors, lie to investors or regulators, or do anything that is contrary to what is stated in the investment program offering documents.  Four of the press releases are reprinted below.


Release: 5646-09
For Release: April 9, 2009

New York Court Enters Order Imposing a $240,000 Fine and Other Sanctions against New York State Resident Michael Vitebsky in a Foreign Currency Scam

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced today that it obtained $240,000 in sanctions and a permanent injunction in a consent order against Michael Vitebsky, a resident of New York State, in connection with his participation in an illegal foreign currency (forex) boiler room operation and for violating the anti-fraud provisions of the Commodity Exchange Act. The order also imposes permanent trading and registration bans on Vitebsky.

Vitebsky is obligated to pay the $240,000 civil monetary penalty upon satisfaction of a $220,000 forfeiture obligation entered in a parallel criminal proceeding, U.S. v. Vitebsky, E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 04 Cr. 0419.

The order was entered by Judge Leo I. Glasser of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and stems from a CFTC complaint filed in 2003 (see CFTC News Release, 4852-03, October 16, 2003). The order enters findings of fact that Vitebsky and others participated in a scheme in which Vitebsky used A.S. Templeton Group, Inc., a company of which he was the president and treasurer, to fraudulently solicit funds from customers for forex transactions.
According to the order, Vitebsky helped divert customer funds for unauthorized purposes and willfully made false representations to customers regarding the profitability of their accounts.

The CFTC would like to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York for their assistance.

The following CFTC staff members are responsible for this case: Sheila Marhamati, Philip Rix, Steven Ringer, Lenel Hickson, Jr., and Vincent McGonagle.


Release: 5645-09
For Release: April 9, 2009

CFTC Charges Austin, Texas Resident Steven Leigh Shakespeare and His Company, Guardian Futures, Inc., With Fraud and Unauthorized Trading

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced today that it charged Steven Leigh Shakespeare, and his company, Guardian Futures, Inc., both of Austin, Texas, with fraud and unauthorized trading of customer accounts, resulting in combined customer trading losses of at least $196,000.

The CFTC complaint, filed on April 8, 2009, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, alleges that Shakespeare engaged in a series of unauthorized transactions and fraudulent acts in the accounts of Plains Grain Company, Inc. and Evans Grain Marketing LLC. The complaint charges that Shakespeare, throughout the course of the unauthorized transactions, made misrepresentations and omitted material facts to customers and to Alaron Trading Corporation, the futures commission merchant to whom Shakespeare had introduced the customer accounts.

On the same day the complaint was filed, the court entered a statutory restraining order preserving books and records and providing the CFTC immediate access to such books and records.

In its continuing litigation, the CFTC seeks restitution to customers, disgorgement of all ill-gotten gains, civil monetary penalties, a permanent injunction, and trading prohibitions, among other sanctions.

The CFTC appreciates the assistance of the office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas.

The following CFTC Division of Enforcement staff are responsible for this case: Timothy J. Mulreany, David Reed, Michael Amakor, Paul Hayeck, and Joan Manley.


Release: 5644-09
For Release: April 9, 2009

William D. Perkins of St. George, Utah Ordered to Pay More Than $2 Million in Sanctions in CFTC Ponzi Scheme Action

Universe Capital Appreciation Commodity Pool, Operated by Perkins, Part of Larger CFTC Action that Has Resulted in More than $45 Million in Judgments

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced that it obtained a federal court order against William D. Perkins of St. George, Utah and Tax Accounting Office (TAO), Perkins’ private bookkeeping service, for more than $2 million in an anti-fraud action brought by the CFTC in 2006. The CFTC action alleged that Perkins fraudulently solicited $3.4 million from investors in a commodity pool he operated under the name Universe Capital Appreciation LLC. (See CFTC Release 5240-06 October 5, 2006.)

The opinion and order were entered on March 25, 2009, by U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler of the District of New Jersey.

Specifically, the order requires Perkins to repay $1.6 million to investors and a civil monetary penalty of $354,462, and prohibits Perkins from engaging in any business activities related to commodity futures or options trading. The court also ordered relief defendant TAO to repay $76,000 of investor money in which TAO had no legitimate interest.

In the opinion, Judge Kugler found that Perkins was reckless to solicit funds for his commodity pool without making a reasonable inquiry into the validity of representations that third parties made regarding the performance of the “superfund”, especially where Perkins had personal experience in three previous failed high yield investment schemes with one of the parties in which they had lost over $2 million of participant funds.

The CFTC complaint alleged that Perkins touted Universe Capital Appreciation LLC as a way for investors with less than $100,000 to participate in a so-called “superfund” that Perkins claimed was making “astonishing” profits of approximately 100 percent annually trading financial futures contracts. In fact, the CFTC complaint alleged that the “superfund” was itself a massive fraud that was the subject of other CFTC actions resulting in over $45 million in judgments. (See CFTC Press Releases 5447-08 February 7, 2008 and 5357-07, July 23, 2007.)

The following Division of Enforcement staff members are responsible for this case: Elizabeth M. Streit, Joy McCormack, Venice Bickham, Scott R. Williamson, Rosemary Hollinger, and Richard Wagner.


Release: 5642-09
For Release: April 7, 2009

Federal Court Issues Preliminary Injunction Against Two Nevada Corporations in $20 Million Commodity Pool Ponzi Scheme Operated by Tennessee Resident, Dennis Bolze

Court Freezes Assets of Centurion Asset Management and Advanced Trading Services; Bolze Is Arrested

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced today that on April 1, 2009, a federal court judge in Knoxville, Tennessee issued a preliminary injunction against defendant Centurion Asset Management, Inc. (Centurion) and relief defendant Advanced Trading Services, Inc. (ATS), both located in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Judge Thomas A. Varlan issued the order that freezes the assets of Centurion and ATS and prohibits Centurion from further violations of the Commodity Exchange Act, as charged. The court determined that the preliminary injunction was necessary to protect the public from further loss and damage and to enable the CFTC to fulfill its statutory duties.

The order stems from a CFTC complaint filed on March 3, 2009, charging Dennis Bolze of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Centurion, with fraud and misappropriation in operating a $20 million commodity pool Ponzi scheme. (See CFTC v. Bolze, et. al., No. 09 C 88 [E.D. Tenn. 2009] and CFTC Press Release 5634-09, March 12, 2009).

As alleged, Bolze and Centurion operated a Ponzi scheme for at least six years that defrauded more than 100 investors and caused approximately $20 million in investor losses. ATS was charged as a relief defendant for receiving funds from defendants to which it was not entitled. Bolze and Centurion told investors that they were pooling and investing customer money in S&P 500 and NASDAQ 100 stock index commodity futures, but instead misappropriated most of the funds, according to the complaint.

Bolze Arrested on March 12

On March 12, 2009, Bolze was arrested in Pennsylvania by federal authorities in connection with a related criminal complaint. However, Bolze was in the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Service at the time of the March 31 hearing. As a result, Judge Varlan’s preliminary injunctive order did not address the CFTC’s charges against him.

In the continuing litigation, the CFTC is seeking permanent injunctive relief, return of funds to defrauded participants, repayment of ill-gotten gains, civil penalties, and other equitable relief.

The following CFTC Division of Enforcement staff are responsible for this case: Jon J. Kramer, Diane M. Romaniuk, Michael Tallarico, Mary Beth Spear, Ava M. Gould, Scott R. Williamson, Rosemary Hollinger, and Richard B. Wagner.

Ponzi Scheme Targets Deaf Community

SEC and CFTC Act to Halt New Fraud

Another fraud was unveiled today as the SEC and the CFTC worked in conjunction to halt a ponzi scheme which purportedly made great returns by trading in the off-exchange foreign currency (forex) markets.  The scammer was a member of the deaf community and perpetrated the fraud on others in the deaf community – a classic example of affinity fraud.  The press releases from both the SEC and the CFTC are reprinted below.

This fraud comes on the heels of other well publicized frauds within the investment management industry including:


SEC Halts Ponzi Scheme Targeting Deaf Investors


Washington, D.C., Feb. 19, 2009 — The Securities and Exchange Commission has obtained a court order halting a Ponzi scheme that specifically targeted members of the Deaf community in the United States and Japan.

The SEC alleges that Hawaii-based Billion Coupons, Inc. (BCI) and its CEO Marvin R. Cooper raised $4.4 million from 125 investors since at least September 2007 by, among other things, holding investment seminars at Deaf community centers. The SEC also alleges that Cooper misappropriated at least $1.4 million in investor funds to pay for a new home and other personal expenses. The order obtained by the SEC freezes the assets of BCI and Cooper.

“This emergency action shows that the Commission will act quickly and decisively to help victims of affinity fraud,” said Linda Chatman Thomsen, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

“A Ponzi scheme targeting members of the Deaf community is particularly reprehensible,” said Rosalind R. Tyson, Regional Director of the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office. “This case is an example of successful coordination between federal and state agencies to protect vulnerable investors.”

The SEC’s complaint, filed yesterday in federal court in Honolulu, alleges that BCI and Cooper represented to the investors that their funds would be invested in the foreign exchange (Forex) markets, that investors would receive returns of up to 25 percent compounded monthly from such trading, and that their investments were safe. According to the complaint, BCI and Cooper actually used only a net $800,000 (cash deposits minus cash withdrawals) of investor funds for Forex trading, and they lost more than $750,000 from their Forex trading. The complaint further alleges that BCI and Cooper failed to generate sufficient funds from their Forex trading to pay the promised returns, and instead operated as a Ponzi scheme by paying returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors.

The SEC alleges that BCI and Cooper have violated the registration and antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws. In its lawsuit, the SEC obtained an order temporarily enjoining BCI and Cooper from future violations of these provisions. The SEC also obtained an order: (1) freezing the assets of BCI and Cooper; (2) appointing a temporary receiver over BCI; (3) preventing the destruction of documents; (4) granting expedited discovery; and (5) requiring BCI and Cooper to provide accountings. The Commission also seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions, disgorgement, and civil penalties against both defendants. A hearing on whether a preliminary injunction should be issued against the defendants and whether a permanent receiver should be appointed is scheduled for March 2, 2009, at 9 a.m. HST.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) also filed an emergency action yesterday against BCI and Cooper, alleging violations of the antifraud provisions of the Commodity Exchange Act. The State of Hawaii’s Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA), Office of the Commissioner of Securities, issued a preliminary order to cease and desist against BCI and Cooper.

The Commission acknowledges the assistance of the Hawaii DCCA’s Office of the Commissioner of Securities and the assistance of the CFTC in this matter.

# # #

For more information, contact:

Andrew Petillon
Associate Regional Director, Los Angeles Regional Office
(323) 965-3214

Kelly Bowers
Senior Assistant Regional Director, Los Angeles Regional Office
(323) 965-3924

John B. Bulgozdy
Senior Trial Counsel, Los Angeles Regional Office
(323) 965-3322



Release: 5614-09
For Release: February 19, 2009

CFTC Charges Hawaii-based Marvin Cooper and Billion Coupons, Inc. with Operating a $4 Million Foreign Currency Ponzi Scheme Aimed at Defrauding the Deaf Community

Court Freezes Defendants’ Assets and Appoints Temporary Receiver

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced today that it charged Marvin Cooper and his company Billion Coupons, Inc. (BCI), both of Honolulu, Hawaii, with operating a Ponzi scheme that involved more than 125 customers — all of whom are Deaf — in connection with commodity futures trading and foreign currency futures (forex) trading.

The CFTC alleges that since at least September 2007, Cooper and BCI solicited approximately $4.4 million from more than 125 Deaf American and Japanese individuals for the sole purported purpose of trading forex. Also, according to the complaint, while Cooper and BCI opened both forex and futures accounts with approximately $1.7 million of customer money, Cooper misappropriated more than $1.4 million of customer funds for personal use. Cooper allegedly used the misappropriated funds to purchase computer and electronic equipment, flying lessons, and a $1 million home. He also allegedly returned approximately $1.6 million to customers as purported “profits” and as commissions to employees and agents.

“This case is a clear example of affinity fraud: Cooper preyed upon the Deaf community to leverage and exploit the inherent trust within so that his scheme would prosper. The CFTC urges the public to be cautious with their investments even when opportunities are presented by those with whom they have an association,” said CFTC Acting Director of Enforcement Stephen J. Obie.

Cooper and BCI allegedly lured in customers with promises of 15 to 25 percent monthly returns, depending on the amount and size of the customer’s investment, while representing that the investment would be low risk and that the promised return was produced by their successful trading. Cooper and BCI, however, were running a Ponzi scheme since the purported “profits” paid to customers came from existing customers’ original principal and/or from money invested by subsequent customers.

Finally, the complaint alleges that to conceal and perpetuate their fraud, Cooper and BCI provided customers with false account statements representing that their accounts were increasing by as much as 25 percent, when, in fact, the accounts were collectively losing money every month.

Court Orders Freeze of Assets and Appoints Temporary Receiver

On February 18, 2009, the Honorable J. Michael Seabright of the United States District Court of Hawaii granted the CFTC’s request for emergency action by, among other things, freezing Cooper’s and BCI’s assets, granting immediate access to Cooper’s and BCI’s documents and appointing Barry Fisher as temporary receiver. Judge Seabright ordered Cooper and BCI to appear in court on March 2, 2009, at 9 a.m. for a preliminary injunction hearing. In the continuing litigation, the CFTC seeks restitution, disgorgement, civil monetary penalties, and permanent injunctions against further violations of the federal commodities laws and against further trading.

The CFTC requests that all victims of Cooper’s and BCI’s actions contact the temporary receiver at (310) 557-1077.

The CFTC appreciates the assistance of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC simultaneously filed a related emergency action against Cooper and BCI. The CFTC also wishes to thank the State of Hawaii, Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Office of the Commissioner of Securities.

The following CFTC Division of Enforcement staff members are responsible for this case: Kenneth W. McCracken, Elizabeth Davis, Michael Loconte, Rick Glaser, and Richard Wagner.

Last Updated: February 19, 2009

What is a Ponzi Scheme?

Definition of a Ponzi Scheme

With all of the talk recently about the Madoff scandal and various other ponzi scheme’s affecting the hedge fund and investment management industry, we have decided to post a definition of a Ponzi scheme.  The definition below comes from the SEC and can be found hereContinue reading