Real Estate Scam Swindled Nearly 1,000 U.S. Investors Out Of $100M, FTC Says
At the Federal Trade Commission’s request, a federal district court in Maryland issued an order temporarily shutting down what the commission says is the largest overseas real estate investment scam it has ever targeted.
According to the FTC, a repeat con man named Andris Pukke set up the scam. Currently he lives in California and perpetuated the scam even while serving a prison sentence for obstruction of justice.
The alleged scheme took in more than $100M, marketing lots in what was billed by Pukke and his associates as a luxury development in Central America known by several names, including Sanctuary Belize, Sanctuary Bay and The Reserve.
Reporting on the development about a year ago, the Wall Street Journal called it an "imbroglio that has continually grown more tangled, amid multiple lawsuits, allegations, counter-allegations, feuds between the lot owners and developers, and divisions among the lot owners themselves."
According to the FTC, the defendants duped consumers into buying Sanctuary Belize lots by falsely promising that the development would include luxury amenities, such as a hospital, hotels, a golf course, a spa, a casino and high-end boutiques. Also, they asserted that the property would be completed soon and that the value of the lots would rapidly appreciate.
Investors paid $150K to $500K each. Instead of developing property in Belize, “the defendants used consumers’ payments to fund their own high-end lifestyles,” the FTC alleges. Little work was done on the actual development.
In filing the complaint against Pukke and a range of other defendants, the FTC is seeking to permanently stop the scheme and obtain a court order requiring them to turn over hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate deceived U.S. investors.
According to the FTC, the defendants operated a set of interrelated businesses (the Sanctuary Belize Enterprise or SBE) and ran commercials on Fox News and Bloomberg News advertising parcels of land that were part of a luxury development in Belize.
The perpetrators of the scheme also advertised the property through infomercials. Consumers who expressed interest in buying property would receive a call from California-based telemarketers who identified themselves as “property consultants” or “investment consultants.”
“The defendants in this case operated a sophisticated international real estate investment scheme that cheated consumers out of millions of dollars of their hard-earned retirement savings,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. “The FTC is committed to stopping this outrageous behavior and compensating the hundreds of victims.”