Release Number 7205-15

July 31, 2015

Court Orders $76 Million in Civil Monetary Penalties against Keith F. Simmons, Deanna Salazar and Their Companies in Connection with Foreign Currency Ponzi Scheme

In Related Criminal Actions, Simmons Sentenced to 40 Years’ and Salazar Sentenced to 4.5 Years’ Incarceration and Ordered to Pay in Total $40 Million in Criminal Restitution

Both Simmons and Salazar Currently are Serving Their Prison Sentences

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today announced that Judge Robert J. Conrad, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina entered separate Consent Orders (Orders) against Defendants Keith F. Simmons and his company, Black Diamond Capital Solutions, LLC, and Deanna Salazar and her companies, Life Plus Group, LLC and Black Diamond Holdings, LLC, imposing a total of $76 million in civil monetary penalties in connection with a foreign currency exchange (forex) scheme in violation of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA). The Orders also impose permanent trading and registration bans on the Defendants and prohibit them from further violations of the anti-fraud provisions of the CEA, as charged.

Simmons was a resident of West Jefferson, North Carolina, and Salazar was a resident of Yucca Valley, California.

The Orders arise out of a CFTC Complaint, filed on January 13, 2011, charging Simmons, Salazar, and their companies with fraudulent solicitation and misappropriation of customer funds in connection with a Ponzi-style scheme involving forex trading (see CFTC Press Release and Complaint 5985-11, February 16, 2011). Also charged in the CFTC complaint are Bryan Coats of Clayton, North Carolina and his company, Genesis Wealth Management, LLC, and Jonathan Davey of Newark, Ohio and his companies, Divine Circulation Services, LLC, Divine Stewardship, LLC, Safe Harbor Ventures, Inc., Safe Harbor Wealth Investments, Inc., and Safe Harbor Wealth, Inc. The CFTC’s litigation against these Defendants is ongoing.

The Orders find that from at least April 2007 through at least 2009, Simmons and Salazar, acting through their companies and with others, fraudulently solicited and accepted at least $35 million from at least 240 individuals to engage in off-exchange forex trading through a trading platform known as Black Diamond. In fact, according to the Orders, no forex trading was ever conducted through the Black Diamond trading platform, and the Black Diamond trading platform never existed. Rather, Simmons and Salazar misappropriated millions of dollars of customer funds to make purported profit payments to customers, as is typical of a Ponzi scheme, and for personal and unrelated business expenses, according to the Orders. The Orders further find that to conceal their fraud, Simmons, with the assistance of Salazar, issued false customer account statements reflecting the promised returns or more based on Black Diamond’s purportedly successful forex trading.

In a related criminal action brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina, Simmons was convicted on December 16, 2010, on charges of securities fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. Simmons was sentenced to 40 years’ incarceration and ordered to pay criminal restitution of $35 million. On December 7, 2010, Salazar pleaded guilty to charges of investment fraud conspiracy and tax evasion. Salazar was sentenced to 4.5 years’ incarceration and ordered to pay $5 million in criminal restitution. Both Simmons and Salazar are still serving their sentences.

CFTC Division of Enforcement staff members responsible for this case are Alan Edelman, Maura Viehmeyer, James H. Holl III, Gretchen L. Lowe, and Rick Glaser. The Division would like to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their cooperation in this matter.

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CFTC’s Foreign Currency (Forex) Fraud Advisory

The CFTC has issued several customer protection Fraud Advisories that provide the warning signs of fraud, including the Foreign Currency Trading (Forex) Fraud Advisory, which states that the CFTC has witnessed a sharp rise in Forex trading scams in recent years and helps customers identify this potential fraud.

Customers can report suspicious activities or information, such as possible violations of commodity trading laws, to the CFTC Division of Enforcement via a Toll-Free Hotline 866-FON-CFTC (866-366-2382) or file a tip or complaint online. 

Media Contact
Dennis Holden

Last Updated: July 31, 2015