Commissioner Jones Announces Guilty Plea In Ponzi Scheme Defrauding Many Senior Californians
News: 2011 Press Release
Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones today announced that Deanna R. Salazar, 53, entered an agreement to plead guilty to two felony counts of Investment/Securities/Mail/Tax Fraud. The U.S. Attorney's Office in the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division, is prosecuting the ongoing criminal case. Salazar agreed to also forfeit property and surrender her insurance license as part of the plea agreement. A formal sentencing hearing is pending. Salazar faces a possible ten year federal prison term.
"Insurance agents who prey upon unsuspecting seniors, will be fully investigated and prosecuted," said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. "These agents who conspired to defraud consumers were sophisticated, their criminal actions extreme, and justice has prevailed."
Investigators found that between August 2007 and December 2009, Life Agent, Deanna R. Salazar and un-named co-conspirators executed what is commonly known as a "ponzi" scheme to defraud investors by inducing them to invest with Salazar's company, Life Plus Group, LLC for the purported purpose of trading foreign currency through a North Carolina company, Black Diamond Capital Solutions and related entities ("Black Diamond").
The investigation revealed that Salazar made numerous false statements to induce investors to invest with Life Plus and Black Diamond. Salazar diverted approximately $1,500,000 in investor money intended for Black Diamond to make ponzi payments to other investors and to fund Salazar's own lavish lifestyle. Salazar's investors were often elderly, and often invested money that constituted much, if not all, of their life savings. Salazar induced at least 200 investors, directly and through intermediaries, to invest more than $7,500,000 into Black Diamond Capital Solutions and Life Plus. Salazar represented to investors that their money would be invested in the foreign currency exchange.
However, despite such representations, Salazar did not invest all the money with Black Diamond or any other purported currency trader as promised. Rather, Salazar simply deposited the money into her business and personal bank accounts, withdrew new investor money as needed to make "ponzi" - style payments to other investors, and diverted other investor money to cars, business expenses, lavish trips, and other expenses unrelated to any foreign exchange. Salazar concealed the scheme, among other ways, with false representations to investors and false account statements.
The Investigation Division, Criminal Operations - Point of Sale [C.O.P.S.] Unit first learned of the scheme in February 2010 from investor's who were clients of Salazar, a licensed insurance agent at the time, and duped into investing in her Life Plus company. The COPS Unit then learned of the broader FBI investigation (Black Diamond) headquartered in North Carolina and joined resources to investigate Salazar. On September 7, 2010, FBI Agents and COPS Investigators executed warrants that resulted in the seizure of Salazar's personal property that included a 2008 Porsche; a 2010 Audi A3, jewelry and approximately $36,707 in funds. 14 victims are from California and of those four are senior citizens, including a family member who was duped out of more than $200,000. Other victims put their homes at risk by pulling equity out of their homes and giving the money to Salazar. In December 2010, the owner of Black Diamond was found guilty in North Carolina.
Anyone who feels that they have been a victim of this fraud, who has not yet contacted investigators, is encouraged to contact CDI Investigator Kevin Oden of the C.O.P.S. Unit at 909.919.2239.
The California Department of Insurance, established in 1868, is the largest consumer protection agency in California. Insurers collect $289 billion in premiums annually in California. Since 2011 the California Department of Insurance received more than 1,000,000 calls from consumers and helped recover over $394 million in claims and premiums. Please visit the Department of Insurance web site at www.insurance.ca.gov. Non-media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800.927.HELP or 213.897.8921. Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDD), please dial 800.482.4833.