Frank Enrique Lleras, 30, Charlotte, North Carolina, the co-founder of a Charlotte-area property investment firm, pleaded guilty to securities fraud and wire fraud, in connection with an investment fraud scheme involving real estate properties.
According to filed court documents and the plea hearing, Lleras was the co-founder, executive vice president and chief investment officer of Optimum Property Investments, LLC (Optimum), an investment company headquartered in Charlotte with purported offices in Miami, Florida, Santiago, Dominican Republic and Barranquilla, Colombia. Lleras admitted in court that from about December 2012 and through 2015, he executed an investment fraud scheme through Optimum, which defrauded at least 20 victims of nearly $3,000,000. According to court records, Lleras induced his victim investors by promoting Optimum as a real estate investment company that made money by purchasing distressed and/or foreclosed real estate properties in Mecklenburg County and elsewhere, and then reselling and and/or leasing those properties.
Court documents show that Lleras travelled frequently to the Dominican Republic, where he induced investors involved in the medical profession to invest with Optimum, falsely claiming that the victims’ money would be used to purchase properties in each investor’s name, which would then be remodeled and sold or rented for profit. According to court records, to execute
the scheme, Lleras established bank accounts in the name of limited liability companies (LLCs) associated with each victim-investor, to which the investors would wire the funds that were purportedly used to purchase the properties. To further induce the scheme, Lleras provided the victim investors with fabricated documents to support the purchase of the properties, including fake deeds, fraudulent tax bill receipts, and made up bank account statements.
As Lleras admitted in court, instead of using the victims’ money as promised, he diverted the funds to pay other debts of Optimum, to purchase property titled to Optimum and not the investors as promised, to fund other business ventures, and to support his own lifestyle, including purchasing expensive jewelry and withdrawing large amounts of cash.
Lleras was released on bond after his plea hearing. The securities fraud charge carries a maximum prison term of 20 years and a $5,000,000 fine, and the wire fraud charge carries a maximum prison term of 20 years and a $250,000 fine. A sentencing date has not been set yet.
Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina made the announcement and was joined by John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte Division, and Thomas L. Noyes, Inspector in Charge of the Charlotte Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service
The case was investigated by the FBI and USPIS. Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey F. Ellis is prosecuting the case. U.S. Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer accepted the plea.