Plea for Non-Existent REIT Investments

Rachel Dollar —  June 6, 2017 — Leave a comment

Mark F. Speakman, 60, Grove City, Ohio, was sentenced to 60 months in prison for an investment fraud scheme that defrauded his clients out of more than $1.1 million.

According to court documents, between 2000 and 2015, Speakman was a financial advisor at Ameriprise Financial, and between 2002 and 2015 he defrauded his clients by misappropriating their funds.

Speakman persuaded his clients to remove their funds from their Ameriprise Financial accounts and invest them in Centrax, a fraudulent real estate investment trust. Rather than investing the funds in real estate, he stole the money. He took $870,000 from seven victims for the real estate scheme and used the money to pay his own expenses.

For example, Speakman persuaded one victim to move $125,000 outside of her normal Ameriprise account and invest instead in Centrax. He did not invest the funds in Centrax, but instead used them for his personal benefit. The victim later developed terminal cancer, and she detailed her physical decline in emails to Speakman and instructed him to write checks to an estate-planning attorney and to a “local crematorium and burial society” where she was pre-purchasing cremation services.

The dying victim told Speakman she counted on the Centrax trust to avoid placing a burden on her family members when she died and intended to use her Centrax investment in order to pay off the mortgage on her home.

Because the Centrax trust did not in fact exist, Speakman convinced the victim not to liquidate her purported Centrax investment and upon her death tried to convince the victim’s family to do the same. When he could no longer postpone their wishes to liquidate, he avoided communication with the family altogether.

As part of his scheme to defraud, Speakman stole from others to avoid detection by a client he had previously defrauded. In 2014, one of his clients who had previously agreed to invest in Centrax told Speakman that he wanted to cash out his investment. Speakman had already misappropriated those funds and had no way to pack back his client.

As a result, Speakman convinced another client and three of his family members to invest in gold coins. Speakman did not invest in gold coins and instead diverted the money in order to pay back the previous victim.

In total, Speakman received nearly $1.2 million from others in furtherance of his fraudulent scheme.

In addition, Speakman filed a false federal income tax return with the IRS for the 2014 income tax year on which he omitted $275,000 in income generated by his illegal conduct. The total tax loss to the IRS for 2002 through 2014 was approximately $300,000.

Speakman pleaded guilty in December 2016 to one count each of wire fraud, money laundering and filing a false federal income tax return with the IRS. As part of his plea, he agreed to pay nearly $1.2 million in restitution to the victims of his investment fraud scheme and approximately $300,000 in restitution to the IRS.

Benjamin C. Glassman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Frank S. Turner II, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Criminal Investigation, Cincinnati Field Office, and Grove City Police Chief Jeff Pearson announced the sentence handed down today by Senior U.S. District Judge James L. Graham.

Mark Speakman committed a serious fraud that lasted more than a decade,” U.S. Attorney Glassman said. “He used his position as a financial advisor to take advantage of clients. Appallingly, he even lied about the final financial wishes of a client who was dying of cancer. The sentence he received today reflects the seriousness of his illegal actions.”

When you knowingly mix deceit and trickery into the financial well-being of individuals, you create a recipe for devastation that could last a lifetime,” said Frank S. Turner II, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Criminal Investigation, Cincinnati Field Office. “Today’s sentencing demonstrates how the IRS, U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Grove City Police Department banded together to help put an end to the criminal behavior of Mr. Speakman who preyed on investors for his own personal financial gain.”

U.S. Attorney Glassman commended the investigation of this case by the IRS and the Grove City Police Department, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter K. Glenn-Applegate, who is prosecuting the case.

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Rachel Dollar

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