A federal appellate court in North Carolina affirmed a 40-year prison sentence for a former Raleigh-based investment advisor convicted on charges of investment advisor fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Stephen Condon Peters, the owner of VisionQuest Wealth Management, was convicted in 2019 for a Ponzi-like scheme in which he defrauded clients by directing them into investments in which he directly benefited, according to the Justice Department. Peters was also ordered to pay more than $15 million in restitution as part of the conviction. Acting U.S. Attorney G. Norman Acker said the court’s decision marked the end of Peters’ appeal.
“For years now, the many victims of former investment advisor Stephen Peters have been holding their breath, waiting for any kind of news about the outcome of his appeal, so that they can move on with their lives,” he said. “With this result, this office can now resume its efforts to liquidate assets and return them to victims as quickly as possible.”
According to the DOJ, the trial evidence indicated that from 2009 to 2017, Peters solicited VisionQuest Wealth Management clients to purchase promissory notes, promising that investors would get an 8% to 9% return annually on their principal investment over five years. Peters told investors that the notes were a “low risk investment” and that the proceeds from the notes would be invested in businesses that would generate revenue.
But Peters stole a large amount of the investors’ funds and kept the fraud going by carrying out a Ponzi-like scheme on his investors, according to the DOJ. In a separate 2017 complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Peters allegedly used at least $4.4 million of the funds on personal expenses, including remodeling a North Carolina farm, art purchases and construction on a Costa Rica vacation home, while also using almost $5 million of new investors’ funds to pay previous investors. Starting in early 2017, the SEC began investigating Peters’ investment activities, according to the DOJ’s indictment.
“Peters corruptly endeavored to influence and obstruct the Enforcement Proceeding by attempting to withhold and conceal records, by fabricating records, and by providing false testimony,” the indictment stated.
In addition to these attempts to stymie the investigation, Peters forged a letter penned to his former compliance officer and backdated it in an attempt to place the burden of disclosing Peters’ conflicts on this person, according to the DOJ. Peters fabricated facts on numerous documents that ended up with SEC investigations, including client balance sheets, wealth management contracts, business disclosures and compliance memoranda. According to the DOJ, Peters also perjured himself during his week-long jury trial in 2019.
In addition to the prison sentence and restitution, the court also mandated an asset forfeiture against Peters.