The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a Puerto Rico resident and his company with conducting a Ponzi scheme that targeted evangelical Christians and factory workers in Puerto Rico.
The SEC alleges that Ricardo Bonilla Rojas and his firm Shadai Yire raised at least $7 million from as many as 200 investors living primarily in Puerto Rico but also on the U.S. mainland in such states as Florida, New York, and North Carolina. The SEC alleges that Rojas actively solicited investors through personal discussions with individuals both over the phone and in person, and he also marketed the investment opportunity in presentations to evangelical Christian groups and factory workers who were often inexperienced investors. According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, Rojas falsely assured investors that their principal contributions were “100% guaranteed” and promised returns up to 50 percent, telling them he would invest their money in commodities. According to the complaint, Rojas never actually invested any money in commodities and instead used new contributions to repay earlier investors in classic Ponzi scheme fashion and stole $700,000 for himself.
In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico today announced criminal charges against Rojas.
According to the SEC’s complaint, Rojas and Shadai Yire conducted the scheme from at least August 2005 to February 2009. Rojas, who resides in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and his company Shadai Yire have never been registered with the SEC to offer securities.
The SEC alleges that Rojas hired some sales agents to help him solicit investors, and paid commissions based on a percentage of the investor funds they raised. Rojas and his sales agents pitched the investment opportunity to individuals as a risk-free way to earn high returns in a short period of time. The SEC further alleges that Rojas created phony account statements that were sent to investors to hide his misuse of investor money and lead them to believe their investments were growing.