The Securities and Exchange Commission announced new charges in its ongoing investigation into the Woodbridge Group of Companies this week, accusing unregistered broker Brett Pittsenbargar with raising more than $18 million through selling Woodbridge securities to retail investors while pocketing about $1 million in transaction-based compensation. According to the complaint against Pittsenbargar, the Texas-based broker was one of Woodbridge’s premier revenue producers.
The SEC first charged Woodbridge and its owner Robert H. Shapiro in December 2017 with defrauding more than 8,000 investors in a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme. At the time, the firm claimed it had been raising revenue for payments to investors from high-interest loans to commercial property owners, when in actuality Shapiro was using money from investors to pay previous investors, according to the SEC. Shapiro also paid $64.5 million in commissions to sales agents, while taking $21 million for his own uses, including $3.1 million in chartered private planes and $1.2 million in alimony, according to the complaint.
“Woodbridge’s claim that it was using investors’ funds to make high interest rate loans to third-party borrowers was a lie,” the complaint against Pittsenbargar read. “In reality, Woodbridge’s business model was a sham.”
After the charges against Shapiro in December 2017, additional charges came in a sustained and steady drip; in August of 2018, the SEC charged five unregistered brokers for selling more than $243 million in unregistered securities to more than 1,600 investors (one of whom had previously been barred from working as broker by the SEC). In December of that year, the SEC charged 13 additional defendants with the same accusations, arguing the group sold more than $350 million in unregistered securities to more than 4,400 investors.
Shapiro, along with former Woodbridge Investment Directors Ivan Acevedo and Dane R. Roseman, were arrested and charged in federal court in Los Angeles in April of this year. Shapiro later pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion in a Florida federal court in April and was eventually sentenced to 25 years in prison earlier this fall.
“Instead of telling investors the truth–that Woodbridge’s third-party lending business was a sham almost from inception – we allege that Acevedo and Roseman worked diligently to perpetuate this sham by preparing and disseminating false marketing materials to induce more investments, keeping this massive Ponzi scheme afloat,” Eric I. Bustillo, director of the SEC’s Miami regional office, said at the time.