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Mystery Of Alleged CRE Ponzi Scheme Deepens As SEC Investigates

A Bay Area real estate company under investigation by federal regulators has engaged in three decades of misconduct and is now seeking bankruptcy relief, its restructuring team told investors over the course of July.

Under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission since May following owner Kenneth J. Casey’s death, Novato, California-based Professional Financial Investors appears to have functioned as a “Ponzi scheme-like operation” in which “investors loaned funds to the Companies, with a significant portion of those funds being used to service the debt owed to existing investors and to personally enrich Mr. Casey himself,” according to bankruptcy records.

The total value of the approximately 70 properties owned by the company or its affiliates is estimated by a broker to be $555M, but debt for those properties totals over $400M, with over $250M owed to investors, court filings show.

San Rafael's 899 Northgate Drive, which is owned by Novato, California-based Professional Financial Investors.

Casey was believed to be posh Marin County’s largest commercial property owner after founding his company several decades ago, the Marin Independent Journal reports. Hundreds of millions of dollars in misappropriated funds, over 1,000 investors and about 70 North Bay Area properties valued in excess of $500M are involved in the bankruptcy and alleged wrongdoings.

Requests for comment from a number of named investors and PFI's legal team were not returned.

PFI is now being led by chief restructuring officer Michael Hoganwho told investors last month that he and his team “are unraveling more than 30 years of misconduct” at the company in an effort to salvage as much of their investments as possible. Of 30 properties owned directly by PFI, Hogan anticipates at least six have no equity, he wrote to investors on July 14.

An Armanino spokesperson said Hogan and the company were declining to comment.

Hogan, a managing director of accounting and business consulting firm Armanino, was brought on after red flags were first noticed by attorney Eric Sternberger of Ragghianti Freitas, a law firm hired to advise on transfer of ownership. Hogan’s onboarding coincided with the resignation of each PFI corporate officer position to make way for the restructuring expert, Sternberger told investors in June.

“Shortly after Mr. Casey’s death, it came to light that interest payments could not be funded without new investment, but accepting new investments would have been a continuation of the misconduct,” Hogan wrote in an introductory letter to over 1,500 investors in PFI and affiliate companies on June 28.

Sternberger, who alerted the SEC to PFI irregularities in May, has told investors the agency began an investigation on May 28. An SEC spokesperson declined to comment.  

Each of the 70 so properties owned by PFI and affiliates is either residential or office, ranging in values of up to $40.8M in the case of Ignacio Gardens, a Novato apartment complex on Alameda del Prado.