Trying to cash in on gold fever, a California precious metals trading firm teamed up with South Florida telemarketers to fleece investors, who thought they were buying precious metals but ended up with nothing, according to federal regulators.
U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks in West Palm Beach on Friday granted a preliminary injunction sought by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission to freeze the assets of 12 related companies and assigned Miami attorney Melanie Damian as a special monitor and corporate manager. Nine executives of the companies also are defendants in the civil action.
The CFTC sought the injunction in December against Hunter Wise Commodities LLC and Lloyd Commodities LLC, among other affiliated companies.
Hunter Wise maintains business addresses in Las Vegas and Irvine, California. Lloyd Commodities operated from Palm Beach Gardens and served as a go-between for Hunter and the telemarketers.
Investors were charged commissions for purchasing non-existent precious metals, interest on loans for the purchases plus storage when nothing was being stored, the CTFC claimed in the complaint.
The companies "do not deal in physical metal. In their financed transactions, defendants do not sell or transfer ownership of any physical metals, they do not disburse any funds as loans, and they do not store physical metals in any depositories for or on behalf of customers," the CFTC complaint charged.
Damian, who was in Irvine on Monday trying to close out all of the companies’ liquid assets, said investors lost about $45 million from 2010 to 2012.
The case marked a first for her. The companies purchased precious metals futures that were held by a bank in London.
"I never had to stay up all night trading commodities on the London Stock Exchange," Damian said, but she did in this case.
The companies claimed to sell precious metals, including gold, silver, platinum, palladium and copper, in transactions to retail customers throughout the U.S.
The complaint filed Dec. 5 by CTFC attorney Carlin Metzger in Chicago said the companies misled investors into thinking they owned the precious metal. The companies also offered to make loans to customers to purchase the metals and arrange for storage.
The action was brought under, among other laws, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.
Gold prices have recently plateaued after reaching a high of $1,900 an ounce Aug. 22, 2011. It was listed Monday at $1,591.
For instance, investors were told they could purchase precious metals by paying as little as 20 percent to 25 percent. Hunter then lent the balance and charged interest on the loans. The dealers allegedly touted the safety, security and limited risk of the commodity transactions.
Many investors ended up losing money when the value of gold and other precious metals dropped last year, Damian said.
She owes Middlebrooks a report on her recommendations and conclusions about the viability of company operations in 30 days.
The appointment is the second recently obtained by Damian of Damian Valori in a high-dollar fraud case. She was named the court-appointed receiver for We the People Inc., a Tallahassee-based company accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of targeting seniors by asking them to trade in their real estate annuities or property for a steady stream of cash.