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Tan Tam Mei
The Straits Times
Tuesday, Jan 10, 2017
An 80-year-old Singaporean man is on the run for his alleged role - including impersonating American government officials - in a US$50 million (S$72 million) investment scam in the United States.
An indictment unsealed last month revealed that the Singaporean, known only as F.K. Ho, was part of a syndicate that allegedly lured investors to park their money in a fraudulent scheme known as the "Cities Upliftment Programme" .
At least 12 victims, including some outside the US, took the bait from June 2013 to August last year, Ms Dawn Dearden, a spokesman for the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, told The Straits Times. She declined to share more details about the Singaporean and how the scam was uncovered.
US court documents stated that Ho was charged with five counts relating to committing wire fraud, impersonating a US officer and identity theft, among others. His alleged accomplices included four Americans - Michael Jacobs, 64; Ruby Handler-Jacobs, 64; Lawrence Lester, 71; Rachel Gendreau, 46 - and Sri Lankan national Rienzi Edwards, 55.
They were also charged with numerous counts of committing fraud, identity theft, money laundering and impersonating US officers.
In December, Homeland Security Investigations and the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested four of them. All six were charged in US courts last month, but Ho and Edwards remain at large.
The scheme was allegedly designed by investment banker Edwards, carried out with the help of couple Jacobs and Handler-Jacobs, and marketed to investors around the world through brokers Ho, Lester and Gendreau.
They allegedly told potential investors that it was backed by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and the investments were guaranteed by the US government.
In a statement last month listing the charges, Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said: "In reality, it was all a lie; there was no government-backed programme and no plan to invest, only an alleged plan to steal the investors' money."
The group also promised "exponential" returns and claimed that a US$1 million investment would yield US$2 million a day, and could earn up to US$150 million in less than four months.
Investors would keep half, while the rest went to revitalising American cities recovering from the 2008 financial crisis.
To strengthen the ruse, the group produced counterfeit documents bearing names of real Fed officials and even impersonated them when meeting victims or speaking with them over the phone, alleged the indictment.
In one instance, Ho allegedly posed as a New York Fed representative in an August 2014 meeting with a potential investor in Manhattan.
But once the victims made transfers to bank accounts in the US, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka, the money was wired to other accounts controlled by Edwards. When investors did not get their money back, they claimed the programme had been delayed. In most cases, they ceased communication with the victims.
Soon after the charges were released, Edwards rejected the accusations and claimed he did not know the others in the alleged scam.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant US Attorney Daniel Noble from the US Department of Justice's Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.
Court records showed that Lester and Gendreau appeared in a New York court last Wednesday and pleaded not guilty to the three charges each faced. Their cases will be mentioned again in April.