Seniors lost millions in investment scams, DA says

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SAN DIEGO — Four people accused of swindling California investors – – many of them senior citizens — out of more than $3 million through marketing phony investment contracts are facing securities fraud, elder fraud, burglary and perjury charges, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced Friday.

White Collar CrimeRichard Provencio, 64, Carmen Provencio, 60, Julio Gomez, 43, and Carl Battie Hampton, 57, are charged in a 105-count criminal complaint involving 28 alleged victims, but authorities believe additional seniors were targeted and are urging them to come forward.

The defendants’ alleged fraudulent dealings were done through two companies: Masters of Retirement and American Equity Direct, according to the complaint.

“The defendants in this case were ruthless and heartless in the way they scammed their victims out of millions of dollars in phony investments,” Dumanis alleged. “I’m proud of the work our Insurance Fraud Unit is doing to bring justice to these victims, which include senior citizens who became victims of elder fraud and theft. We’re also encouraging any other potential victims to come forward.”

Investors were guaranteed returns way above market — 7 to 15 percent; were assured their principal was guaranteed safe; and were told a number of lies in order to get them to invest, according to prosecutors. The total amount of principal collected from victims in San Diego and Orange counties was nearly $3.1 million, all of which was lost, prosecutors said.

Richard Provencio and his wife, Carmen, who ran the investment companies, were arrested on $750,000 warrants Tuesday in Los Angeles and Orange counties, respectively. Investment salesman Gomez was arrested Monday in San Diego and Hampton was arrested Thursday in Georgia.

The case was jointly investigated by the California Department of Insurance, the FBI and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.

“I find these crimes to be particularly appalling,” said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. “I have no tolerance for those who prey on the vulnerable, especially seniors who lost their life savings to these scammers and were left in a devastating financial hole.”

Arraignment dates for Hamptons and the Provencios will be set after they are booked into jail in San Diego. Gomez was arraigned Wednesday and is due back in court next week. He faces 25 years in prison if convicted.

The other defendants face up to 42 years behind bars if convicted.

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