The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently filed a lawsuit against 26 people and companies for their roles in an alleged $428 million fraud involving Mexican timeshare rentals.
This comes in the wake of the SEC's recent attempts to crack down on scams that target retirees. In the lawsuit filed in a federal court in Chicago, the SEC has alleged that the ring duped thousands of people by promising stable incomes from timeshares in Cancun.
The operators would instead use money from new clients to make purported rental payments to earlier investors, which would leave victims with more than $310 million in losses when the system collapsed. Merri Jo Gillette, the SEC's regional director in Chicago, says the lawsuit "shows that the SEC will vigilantly pursue those who target older Americans, no matter what the obstacles."
According to Christopher Cox, the Chairman of the SEC, U.S. regulators are stepping up efforts to protect retirees because their share of the nation's wealth makes them prime targets for securities swindlers and scam artists. According to the chairman, the SEC's effort has generated more than 40 enforcement actions in the past two years.
The current SEC lawsuit centers on Michael E. Kelly, a former Indiana resident, who was arrested in December and charged by federal prosecutors with engaging in a scheme to defraud. According to the SEC, Kelly allegedly orchestrated the scam from 1999 until 2005, assisted by a national sales network. The scam started when operators sold investors timeshares in several hotels, which were supposed to be leased out through an agent, generating fixed returns. And then when investors wanted out, the leasing agent would buy back their timeshares for the full amount.
According to the SEC, the leasing agent, touted as a large independent company, was actually a small Panamanian travel agency controlled by Kelly. Brokers in charge of pushing the investments are believed to have received $72 million in commissions. Kelly has pleaded not guilty in the criminal case.