|Photo: Oregon's Mt. Hood Territory. Credit: Wikimedia.|
The Securities and Exchange Commission today filed fraud charges against a Portland, Oregon-based investment adviser who perpetrated a long-running Ponzi scheme that raised over $37 million from more than 100 investors in the Pacific Northwest and across the country.
The SEC alleges that Yusaf Jawed used false marketing materials that boasted double-digit returns to lure people to invest their money into several hedge funds he managed. He then improperly redirected their money into accounts he personally controlled. As part of the scheme, Jawed created phony assets, sent bogus account statements to investors, and manufactured a sham buyout of the funds to make investors think their hedge fund interests would soon be redeemed. Jawed misused investor money to pay off earlier investors, pay his own expenses and travel, and create the overall illusion of success and achievement to impress investors.
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Portland, Jawed managed a number of hedge funds through at least two companies he controlled: Grifphon Asset Management LLC and Grifphon Holdings LLC. Jawed’s marketing materials claimed that the Grifphon funds earned double-digit returns year after year even as the S&P 500 Index declined. For certain funds, Jawed also falsely claimed they would invest in publicly-traded securities and that their assets were maintained at reputable financial institutions.
The SEC alleges that Jawed instead invested very little of the more than $37 million that he raised from investors. For one fund, 70 percent of the money raised was either paid in redemptions to investors in other funds, paid to finders, or merely transferred to accounts belonging to Grifphon Asset Management or other entities that Jawed controlled. Jawed concealed the fraud by telling Grifphon’s bookkeepers that the money transfers represented purchases of offshore bonds – though in reality the purported investment was a sham entity supposedly managed by Jawed’s unemployed aunt who lives in Bangladesh.
According to the SEC’s complaint, Jawed further deceived investors as the funds were collapsing by telling them that independent third parties were buying the Grifphon funds’ alleged assets at a premium. In truth, the so-called third-parties were sham entities originally formed by Grifphon and Jawed containing no assets, no income, and no ability to pay for the funds’ alleged assets.
The SEC’s complaint against Jawed additionally charges Robert P. Custis, an attorney who Jawed hired to assist him in the fraud. Custis sent false and misleading statements to investors about the status of the purported purchase of the Grifphon funds’ assets. Custis consistently misrepresented that this purchase was imminent and would result in investors’ investments being repaid at a profit.
By engaging in the above conduct, Jawed, GAM, and Grifphon Holdings violated Section 17(a) of the Securities Act, Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5 thereunder, and Sections 206(1), 206(2), and 206(4) of the Advisers Act and Rule 206(4)-8 thereunder. By engaging in the above conduct, Custis violated Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5 thereunder and aided and abetted violations of Section 206(4) and Rule 206(4)-8 thereunder. The Commission seeks a permanent injunction, disgorgement and prejudgment interest, civil penalty, and other relief as appropriate against them.
The SEC filed separate complaints against two others connected to Jawed’s scheme. Those complaints allege that Jacques Nichols – a Portland-based attorney – falsely claimed to investors that an independent third party would pay tens of millions of dollars to buy the hedge funds’ alleged assets at a premium, and that Jawed’s associate, Lyman Bruhn, of Vancouver, Wash., ran a separate Ponzi scheme and induced investments through false claims he was investing in "blue chip" stocks.
Without admitting or denying the allegations, Nichols, Bruhn, and two entities Bruhn controlled (Pearl Asset Management, LLC and Sasquatch Capital Management, LLC) agreed to settle the SEC’s charges. Along with other relief, Bruhn consented to the entry of permanent injunctions against violations of the Section 17(a) of the Securities Act, Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5 thereunder, and Sections 206(1), 206(2), 206(4) of the Advisers Act and Rule 206(4)-8 thereunder. Along with other relief, Nichols consented to the entry of a permanent injunction against violations of Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5 thereunder, and aiding and abetting violations of Sections 206(1), 206(2), and 206(4) of the Advisers Act and Rule 206(4)-8 thereunder. The SEC’s litigation continues against Jawed, the two Grifphon entities, and Custis.