The Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday charged a Fort Lauderdale-based real estate investment scheme fleeced 1,400 investors out of more than $300 million.
The SEC alleges in a civil complaint that five former real estate agents with Cay Clubs Resorts and Marinas sought buyers for units at five-star resorts in Florida and Las Vegas but the pitch was nothing more than a fraud.
Cay Clubs Resorts Realty Inc. was based in Fort Lauderdale but disbanded in 2007, according to Florida corporate records.
The agents allegedly used a network of hundreds of sales agents, marketing seminars and podcasts that touted the profitability of purchasing units at Cay Clubs resorts.
Investors were promised a 15 percent return and a future income stream through a rental program that Cay Clubs managed.
The SEC claims the money was never used to develop resorts and instead was used to pay returns to earlier investors in class Ponzi-scheme style.
“Meanwhile they paid themselves exorbitant salaries and commissions totaling more than $30 million, and investor funds also were misused to buy airplanes and boats,” the SEC said in a statement. “While still advertising itself as a profitable venture, Cay Clubs eventually abandoned its operations. Many investors’ properties went into foreclosure.”
The SEC investigation was conducted in the Miami regional office by senior counsel Linda S. Schmidt and senior regional accountant Fernando Torres. Senior trial counsel Amie R. Berlin leads the SEC’s litigation.
The complaint says the alleged eight-year scam was led by Cay Clubs president and CEO Fred Davis Clark Jr., chief financial officer David W. Schwarz, sales directors Barry Graham and Ricky Lynn Stokes, and managing member Cristal Coleman. The suit seeks disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus prejudgment interest from all five.
“These Cay Clubs executives lined their pockets with millions of dollars that they told investors would be used to develop five-star resort properties,” said regional SEC director Eric I. Bustillo in Miami. “They continued to defraud investors as Cay Clubs collapsed.”
Bustillo said the scheme operated during the national real estate boom — and no place was hotter than Florida and Nevada.
“Real estate at the time was the investment du jour,” he said. “Everyone wanted to be in real estate.”
“They were able to get $300 million from 1,400 people, so I think they told a pretty good story,” Bustillo said.
Clark, Coleman, Graham and Stokes solicited investors, saying they could cash in on undervalued properties, historic appreciation and count on at least $30,000 in upgrades to the units they purchased, according to the complaint.
Stokes also wrote potential investors claiming Cay Clubs was a “very stable, financially healthy company worth billions.”
Besides purchasing airplanes and boats, the executives became investors themselves, putting money into precious metals and a liquor distillery that produced Pirate’s Choice Rum.
Cay Clubs abandoned its operations in 2008. Clark and Coleman married and moved to the Cayman Islands. The SEC alleges the couple continued to operate the scam and funneled at least $2 million to offshore accounts.
The case is assigned to Senior U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King in Miami.