A Burbank woman was sentenced to five years in federal prison after she pleaded guilty to operating a $10.3-million Ponzi scheme. She was also ordered to pay $6.1 million to victims after having already returned a portion of the money.
Clelia Flores, formerly of El Segundo, promised 25% returns every 45 days to victims who invested in her company, Maximum Return Investments, and several other companies under her control.
Flores promised to place the money in “guaranteed” bank programs and other investments. She also promised to return the original amount invested at any time because their money would never leave he bank, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Flores, 43, pleaded guilty in May to two counts of wire fraud and two counts of money laundering, and admitted to using the investment funds for personal purchases.
U.S. District Court Judge Margaret M. Morrow ordered the restitution and prison time for Flores late Monday during a sentencing hearing.
Flores collected more than $10.3 million in the scheme and bought a luxury home in El Segundo, authorities said. She also used the money to throw lavish parties for investors.
When investors requested the profits, Flores would persuade them to reinvest the money or fabricate reasons why their money could not be returned, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
“A lot of people were people scraping their life savings together to invest with her,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. Beong-Soo Kim. “And unfortunately, this is not an unusual case.”
“The impact is devastating,” said Kim, chief of the Major Frauds Section of the U.S. Central District of California. “The full damage is not fully reflected in the loss though.”
The 169 victims live throughout California, and many traveled down to the hearing to share stories of how Flores’ scheme had hurt them, including lost college funds and life savings and failed marriages.
“Unfortunately, this is on the smaller side of the investment schemes we have seen in recent years,” said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
He cautioned the public against buying in to over-the-top promises.
“These are happening with a surprising degree of frequency,” Mrozek said. “If people can guarantee these outlandish promises, the large brokerage firms would be participating in them.”
Flores also faced civil penalties in September 2009 after the Securities and Exchange Commission charged her and her company with federal securities violations.