The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced charges and asset freezes against the operators of a worldwide pyramid scheme targeting Asian and Latino communities in the U.S. and abroad.
The SEC alleges that three entities collectively operating under the business names WCM and WCM777 are posing as multi-level marketing companies in the business of selling third-party cloud computing services, which can include website hosting, data storage, and software support. The entities are based in California and Hong Kong and controlled by “Phil” Ming Xu, who is a resident of Temple City, California.
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Los Angeles, WCM and WCM777 have raised more than $65 million since March 2013 by falsely promising tens of thousands of investors that the return on investment in the cloud services venture would be 100 percent or more in 100 days. Investors were told they would receive “points” for making investments or enrolling other investors. The points would be convertible into equity in initial public offerings of high-tech companies their money would help launch. However, rather than building out cloud services or incubating high-tech companies, Xu and the WCM entities used investor funds to make Ponzi payments of purported investment returns to some investors. They also spent investor money to purchase golf courses and other U.S.-based properties among other unauthorized expenditures.
The court has granted the SEC’s request for an asset freeze and the appointment of a temporary receiver over the assets of WCM, WCM777, and several other entities named as relief defendants for the purpose of recovering money from the scheme in their possession.
“Xu and his entities claimed they were using investor funds to build a strong cloud services company that would then ignite other high-tech companies and ultimately make their investors very wealthy,” said Michele Wein Layne, director of the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office. “In reality, they were operating a pyramid scheme that preyed on investors in particular ethnic communities, leaving them with nothing left to show for their investment.”
According to the SEC’s complaint, WCM and WCM777 sell their products exclusively to investors and have no other apparent sources of revenue. Their offerings and operations depend almost entirely on the recruitment of new investors and purchases by existing investors to provide the money for returns. On its website, WCM777 specifically addressed the question “Is WCM777 a Ponzi Game?” by writing, “In summary, we are not a Ponzi game company. We are creating a new business model.”
The SEC alleges that Xu and his entities made various false claims to investors about purported partnerships with more than 700 major companies such as Siemens, Denny’s, and Goldman Sachs – in some instances falsely representing that they had permission to use their logos. Meantime, besides buying two golf courses with investor money, Xu and his entities also purchased a warehouse, vacant land, and several single family homes They also used investor funds to play the stock market and make other related investments through intermediary companies, such as an oil and gas offering. They also sent investor money to a rough diamond jewel merchant in Hong Kong and another unrelated company affiliated with Xu.
The SEC’s complaint alleges that WCM, WCM777, and Xu violated Sections 5(a), 5(c), and 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and Rule 10b-5. The complaint further alleges that Xu violated Section 20(a) of the Exchange Act. In addition to the asset freezes and appointment of a temporary receiver, the Honorable Christina A. Snyder also granted the SEC’s request for an order prohibiting the destruction of documents and requiring the defendants to provide accountings. A court hearing has been scheduled for April 10, 2014.
The SEC’s investigation has been conducted by Peter Del Greco, Maria Rodriguez, and Marc Blau of the Los Angeles office. The SEC’s litigation will be led by John Bulgozdy.