Banking regulators trying to track down as much as $10 million that disappeared from First Pension Corp. have traced some of the money to a Singapore bank, a lawyer familiar with the case said Thursday.
James Joseph, the Los Angeles attorney who was appointed trustee for the bankrupt pension fund administration firm, said that regulators in Colorado have apparently found evidence of a wire transfer from “somewhere in Orange County” to Singapore in April.
“It’s pretty solid that the money was transferred there,” Joseph said.
Joseph also said that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating First Pension, which filed for liquidation last Friday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Ana. First Pension invested about $350 million for about 8,000 private investors, many of them in Southern California, mainly in second trust deeds.
The bankruptcy filing came a day after the custodian for investors’ money, Summit Trust Co. of Englewood, Colo., was seized by state regulators there after the institution’s president told them that $10 million was transferred without his authorization.
It remained unclear Thursday what has happened to the investors’ money.
Citing SEC policy, agency spokeswoman Lori Richards would neither confirm nor deny that her office is investigating First Pension. But Joseph said he met with four SEC lawyers at First Pension offices Thursday morning.
First Pension and Summit are both controlled by Villa Park businessman William E. Cooper. Cooper’s lawyer, Milan Smith in Torrance, could not be reached for comment.
The SEC is the second federal agency to get involved. FBI officials said earlier this week said that they are investigating First Pension. They would not elaborate.
In Irvine, meanwhile, dozens of worried investors gathered outside First Pension’s locked office Thursday morning, hoping to learn anything they could about where their money is.
“I wish I had some answers,” said one man who invested $26,000 through the company. “I have no idea.”
Richard Bradshaw, a 64-year-old graphic designer who said he is owed $6,000 in dividend payments, said he and others banged on the locked doors until a woman emerged. She told them that neither Cooper nor other executives were available to answer their questions.
“She said she didn’t know where any of the records were,” said Bradshaw, who is also a limited partner in First Diversified Financial Services, the holding company for First Pension. “I have a right to those records.”
Bradshaw said that Joseph and the SEC investigators were in the closed office for more than an hour, then left without speaking to the assembled investors.
William Burd, the Santa Ana lawyer hired by Cooper to file First Pension’s bankruptcy petition, said he was unaware of the connection between his client and Summit Trust.
“I was given less than adequate information,” he said Thursday.
Burd said he had scheduled a meeting with trustee Joseph, Cooper and other First Pension officers for Tuesday, but their personal attorneys instructed them not to attend, so the session was canceled.