Four suspects – including a San Clemente couple– are charged in San Diego County in connection with a statewide investment scam.
The arrests came last week as a result of a joint investigation involving the California Department of Insurance and the San Diego County District Attorney's Office.
The individuals in custody, including Richard and Carmen Provencio of San Clemente, allegedly scammed at least 28 victims statewide -- many of whom were seniors -- out of more than $3 million in worthless investments, according to an Insurance Department press release.
"I have zero tolerance for those who purposefully deceive individuals, especially seniors, by offering false promises and long term financial security as part of their scam," Commissioner Dave Jones said in a statement.
"These [alleged] criminals conspired to convince consumers to invest their life savings in bogus investments, which left many of them financially devastated. Anyone who targets insurance consumers and threatens the stability of the marketplace will be brought to justice by my department and our law enforcement partners," Jones said.
The Provencios and the other suspects, Julio Gomez, 43, (residence unknown) and Carl Battie (aka Hampton), 57; of San Diego face 105 felony counts including multiple securities fraud, elder financial abuse, burglary and conspiracy.
Between 2008 and 2012 Richard Provencio, a former life insurance agent, and Gomez, a licensed life insurance agent, solicited investors through cold calling, mailers and free dinner seminars. Many victims invested because the promised guaranteed principal protection, which was a false guarantee, according to the Department of Insurance.
"The defendants in this case were ruthless and heartless in the way they scammed their victims out of millions of dollars in phony investments," San Diego D.A. Bonnie Dumanis said. Carmen Provencio, officials allege, was complicit in the scheme by providing all bookkeeping and accounting for her husband’s companies, American Equity, Direct Inc. and Masters of Retirements, Inc.
Battie provided Richard Provencio with a financial performance guarantee by Windsor Property and Surety, LLC., although the company was not an authorized insurance company which made the guarantee worthless.
This joint investigation was also assisted from the California Office of Business Oversight and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The investigation revealed that none of the investments was secured and many victims lost their entire retirement savings to this scam, the press release alleges.
If you believe that you may have been a victim of Provencio or Gomez, please contact local law enforcement or the California Department of Insurance Consumer Hotline at 800-927-4357.