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Financial Crimes

Homeland Security Investigations in Miami partners with U.S. Attorney and others targeting financial fraud

MIAMI - On Monday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge Anthony V. Mangione joined U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wifredo Ferrer and other officials from federal and state law enforcement agencies to announce a joint Department of Justice securities and investment fraud initiative and the creation of the South Florida Securities and Investment Fraud Initiative.

An ICE HSI investigation of Luis Felipe Perez, a Miami jeweler, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay approximately $10 million in restitution to the victims of his Ponzi scheme, was highlighted as one of the successful investigations and prosecutions under this initiative.

In June 2009, ICE HSI special agents joined an investigation with City of Miami Police Department detectives after they received complaints from victims and discovered that Luis Perez was operating a large scale bank fraud and Ponzi scheme that swindled millions of dollars from investors.

From 2006 through mid-2009, Perez solicited funds from approximately 35 individuals in exchange for promissory notes or oral loan agreements, falsely informing investors they would be investing in his New York jewelry businesses or pawn shops, and promising annual returns of 24 to 120 percent.

Instead, Perez created an unsustainable Ponzi scheme in which he used the monies collected from new investors to pay the returns promised to the earlier investors. Most of Perez's investors never recovered their investments, but Perez himself made millions and lived a lavish lifestyle that included a multi-million dollar home, expensive cars, and international travel.

Perez did not carry out this scheme alone. When prospective investors told him that they did not have money available to invest with him, he referred them to a certified public accountant named Berta Sanders, who was later charged and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud with Perez.

Sanders prepared fraudulent loan applications on behalf of these investors, which were submitted to Wachovia Bank. These false loan applications contained false information about the borrower's business income, assets, and accounts receivable. To obtain the fraudulent loans, Sanders worked with Wachovia Loan Officer Richard Garcia, who also pleaded guilty to bank fraud. Sanders prepared false tax returns, bank statements, and personal financial statements in connection with the line of credit applications. Once the borrowers received the proceeds from the fraudulent loan applications, they invested most of the funds in Perez's Ponzi scheme. When Perez's Ponzi scheme ultimately collapsed in May 2009, most of the fraudulent loans obtained from Wachovia subsequently defaulted. As the investigation progressed, Perez pleaded guilty to securities fraud in connection with the $40 million Ponzi scheme and also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud in the amount of $12 million.

"ICE Homeland Security Investigations remains committed to working with our law enforcement partners to aggressively investigate financial fraud crimes and target those individuals and organizations that exploit vulnerabilities in financial systems to launder illicit proceeds," said Anthony Mangione, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Miami. "Individuals and organizations that engage in the deception and financial exploitation of honest investors and financial institutions will be held accountable."

U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, "Investors lose billions of dollars annually to fraudulent schemes. Some victims -- the luckier ones -- lose only thousands of dollars. Others lose their entire lives' savings. While the victims of fraud are financially ruined, the fraudsters live a life of luxury. Together with our law enforcement and regulatory partners, we hope to help put an end to this type of fraud."

The interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force was established in November 2009 to lead an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes. For more information on the task force, visit StopFraud.gov.

To directly address the rising number of investment and securities fraud schemes in the Southern District of Florida, the South Florida Securities and Investment Fraud Initiative was created. Participating in this newly created initiative are the U.S. Attorney's Office, ICE HSI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Criminal Investigation Division, U.S. Secret Service (USSS), U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Inspector General (FDIC-OIG), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), State of Florida's Office of Financial Regulation, and the Florida Office of Financial Regulation. These law enforcement and regulatory agencies have come together to devote the resources necessary to combat securities and investment fraud in South Florida.