A Los Angeles area pastor was sentenced to a term of 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to stealing more than $7 million from 82 people.
Luis Alonso Serna is a former pastor of Zion Living Word Christian Center in Chatsworth, California who recently pleaded guilty to running a nearly $7 million Ponzi scheme. According to court documents, Serna preyed on people who were far from having the financial means to invest. Serna used a common investment fraud tactic: he used his position of trust as a pastor to get his victims to trust him.
He operated his Ponzi scheme through an investment company he named "Architects of the Future Investments" which dealt in foreign currency, and promised his clients high returns. Serna claimed in his plea agreement that he used most of the money from investors to pay back people who had paid him previously.
According to prosecutors, Serna's victims didn't just lose money. The losses they suffered were far greater than that, causing the loss of their homes and the inability to pay for their children's education.
To avoid falling victim to a Ponzi scheme, you must be vigilant. Consider the common warning signs of Ponzi schemes before you invest –
- Many people who run Ponzi schemes also run legitimate brokerages to give the scheme credibility and dampen suspicion.
- Ponzi scheme operators often use a position of trust, defrauding even their own friends, family, coworkers, or congregation as in the case of Luis Serna.
- Ponzi scheme operators know that to get investors to trust them, they not only need to brag about themselves, they need to get other trustworthy people to endorse the investment.
- One of the more obvious signs of a Ponzi scheme is guaranteed returns and/or guaranteed returns that are exorbitantly high. Remember, legitimate brokers and advisors cannot guarantee anything.
- Fraudsters will be dodgy if you ask them to withdraw money from your investment or ask for further explanation of your account statement. This is because your investment likely has not generated returns and they didn't put your money in the promised account.
If you lost money through what you suspect to be a Ponzi scheme, contact a securities fraud attorney at Meyer Wilson today. In 2014 alone, our law firm recovered more than $29 million for clients. We know how to secure results for our clients, so contact us today for a free consultation if you suspect fraud or misconduct.