SEC Charges Husband and Wife in Florida with Defrauding Seniors Investing in Purported Charity
The Securities and Exchange Commission recently charged a husband and wife who raised millions of dollars selling investments for a purported charitable organization in Tallahassee, Fla., while defrauding senior citizens and significantly exaggerating the amount of contributions actually made to charity.
The SEC alleges that after Richard K. Olive and Susan L. Olive were hired at We The People Inc., the organization obtained $75 million from more than 400 investors in Florida, Colorado, and Texas among more than 30 states across the country by selling an investment product they described as a charitable gift annuity (CGA). However, the CGAs issued by We The People differed in several ways from CGAs issued legitimately, namely that they were issued primarily to benefit the Olives and other third-party promoters and consultants. Only a small amount of the money raised was actually directed to charitable services. Meanwhile the Olives received more than $1.1 million in salary and commissions, and they also siphoned away investor funds for their personal use.
The SEC further alleges that the Olives lured elderly investors with limited investing experience into the scheme by making a number of false representations about the purported value and financial benefits of We The People's CGAs. The Olives also lied about the safety and security of the investments.
According to the SEC's complaint against the Olives filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, investors were coaxed to transfer assets including stocks, annuities, real estate, and cash to We The People in exchange for a CGA. We The People claimed to operate as a non-profit organization while it was offering the CGAs from June 2008 to April 2012. However, We The People was not operating as a charity but instead for the primary purpose of issuing CGAs and using the proceeds to pay substantial sums to the Olives, third-party promoters, and consultants. On rare occasions when We The People did actually direct money raised toward charitable services, it was insignificant. For instance, the organization made public statements that it donated $21.8 million in relief aid to AIDS orphans in Zambia, but in fact the supplies were donated by others and We The People merely made a small payment to the third party that was shipping the supplies.
The SEC alleges that We The People's marketing and promotional materials for the CGA offering contained misrepresentations and omissions including:
- False statements that the CGAs were worth the "full" accumulated value of the assets transferred by investors to We The People. Investors were not told in advance of transferring their assets that the value of the CGA as calculated by We The People was always substantially less than the "full" accumulated value of those assets because We The People took a significant percentage of the asset's value and kept it as a purported "charitable gift."
- False statements about the safety and security of the CGA program including that We The People held in trust a reserve equal to 110 percent of its liabilities and that it "reinsured" its products through "highly rated" commercial insurance companies. We The People did not in fact have any restricted-access trust accounts let alone maintain a reserve in them, and it did not purchase reinsurance from any insurance company to cover its potential liabilities under the CGAs.
- Omissions of the previous indictments and regulatory sanctions against Richard and Susan Olive when they previously sold similar products.
- Omissions of the sizable commissions that We The People paid to third-party promoters and the Olives on the sale of the CGAs, hiding from investors that these commissions totaled several million dollars.
The SEC's complaint charges the Olives with violations, or aiding and abetting violations, of the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws as well as violations of the securities and broker-dealer registration provisions of the federal securities laws. The SEC is seeking disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus pre- and post-judgment interest and financial penalties against the Olives.
The SEC also filed separate complaints today against We The People as well as the company's in-house counsel William G. Reeves. They both agreed to settle the charges without admitting or denying the allegations. The settlements are subject to court approval.
We The People consented to a final judgment that will enable the appointment of a receiver to protect more than $60 million of investor assets still held by the company. The final judgment also provides for disgorgement of ill-gotten gains and provides injunctive relief under the antifraud and registration provisions of the federal securities laws.
Reeves entered into a cooperation agreement with the SEC, and the terms of his settlement reflect his assistance in the SEC's investigation and anticipated cooperation in its pending action against the Olives. Reeves agreed to be suspended from appearing or practicing before the SEC for at least five years, and consented to a final judgment providing injunctive relief under the provisions of the federal securities laws that he violated. The court will determine at a later date whether a financial penalty should be imposed against Reeves.
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