The Securities and Exchange Commission charged five marketers and four companies with unlawful securities sales for the bankrupt Woodbridge Group of Cos. LLC, allegedly reaping more than $5.8 million in sales commissions while working for the Boca Raton-based company.
Woodbridge collapsed into bankruptcy in December 2017, and the SEC previously charged the company, its owner and others with operating a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme built on fictitious real estate loans.
Investors were promised stakes in mortgage investment funds and commercial real estate bridge loan funds. The SEC has been chasing Woodbridge records for operations dating back to 2012.
The Florida-based defendants named in the SEC’s complaints — Barry M. Kornfeld, Ferne Kornfeld, Lynette M. Robbins, Andrew G. Costa, Albert D. Klager and their companies — were among Woodbridge’s top revenue producers, selling more than $243 million of its unregistered securities to more than 1,600 retail investors, according to the SEC order.
Barry Kornfeld also violated a prior SEC order which barred him from acting as a broker.
The defendants collectively earned more than $5.8 million in transaction-based commissions and pitched investors via TV, radio and newspaper ads, as well as email, social media and at in-person meetings and investment seminars — and routinely touted Woodbridge’s securities as “safe and secure.”
“The broker-dealer and securities registration provisions are vital protections for retail investors,” Eric Bustillo, Miami regional director of the SEC, said in a statement. “Our actions allege the defendants, while not registered as broker-dealers, pocketed millions of dollars in unlawful commissions from their widespread sales of unregistered Woodbridge securities.”
The Kornfelds allegedly solicited investors at seminars and a “conservative retirement and income planning class” they taught at a Florida university.
The SEC alleges Klager pitched Woodbridge investments in newspaper ads, Costa recommended them on a radio program he hosted, and Robbins used radio, television and internet marketing.
“Once Woodbridge filed for bankruptcy, investors stopped receiving monthly interest payments and have not received a return of their investment principal,” the SEC states.
Woodbridge has since agreed to settle the liability portion of the SEC’s civil charges without admitting or denying the allegations and reached a resolution with the SEC and creditors in a bankruptcy action regarding the ongoing control and management of Woodbridge, according to the agency.
The SEC charged more than 275 Woodbridge-linked limited liability companies defrauded more than 8,400 investors, including 2,600 people who invested $400 million in retirement savings.
The SEC’s monetary claims against Woodbridge remain pending, the agency reports.
The company was founded by Robert H. Shapiro, who mostly split his time between California and Colorado and built a reputation as a lavish spender.
Shapiro’s Woodbridge Realty of Colorado hosted a New Year’s Eve party for 250 revelers ringing in 2016 at a country club ballroom tastefully decorated in black and white. The company website boasted a menu of a “mouthwatering display of prime rib, spring lamb, oysters, crab, shrimp — and every type of charcuterie and hors d’oeuvres imaginable.”
In its latest actions, the SEC filed charges seeking court-ordered injunctions, return of allegedly ill-gotten gains with interest and financial penalties against the Kornfelds, Costa, Klager and their companies.
Robbins and her company, Knowles Systems Inc., agreed to settle the SEC’s charges in a separate action without admitting or denying the allegations and return more than $1 million of allegedly ill-gotten gains plus interest. Robbins also agreed to pay a $100,000 civil penalty and to an industry and penny-stock bar.