February 16, 2011

CFTC Obtains Asset Freeze against Keith Simmons, Deanna Salazar, Bryan Coats, Jonathan Davey and Their Companies, Charged in $35 Million Foreign Currency Ponzi Scheme

Defendants charged with solicitation fraud and misappropriation of customer funds.

Washington, DC – The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced that it obtained a federal court order freezing the assets held by defendants Keith F. Simmons of West Jefferson, N.C., Bryan Coats of Clayton, N.C., Jonathan Davey of Newark, Ohio, and numerous corporate entities controlled by them. The order also prohibits the destruction of books and records and schedules a hearing on the CFTC’s motion for a preliminary injunction for February 23, 2011. Previously, on January 19, 2011, the court issued a consent order freezing the assets of defendants Deanna Salazar and Life Plus Group, LLC and relief defendant Lawrence Salazar.

The order stems from a CFTC complaint, filed on January 13, 2011, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, charging the defendants with fraudulent solicitation and misappropriation of customer funds in connection with a Ponzi scheme involving foreign currency exchange (forex) trading. The following corporate entities also are charged in the CFTC complaint: Black Diamond Capital Solutions, L.L.C., Black Diamond Holdings, L.L.C., Life Plus Group, L.L.C., Genesis Wealth Management, L.L.C., Divine Circulation Services, L.L.C., Safe Harbor Ventures, Inc., Safe Harbor Wealth Investments, Inc., Divine Stewardship, L.L.C., and Safe Harbor Wealth, Inc.

The CFTC complaint alleges that, from at least April 2007, the defendants orchestrated a $35 million Ponzi-style fraudulent scheme, soliciting the funds from at least 240 individuals to invest in off-exchange forex through a purported Black Diamond trading platform. In their solicitations, the defendants allegedly fraudulently represented that (1) Black Diamond had a three-year history of highly successful forex trading and consistently earned positive returns averaging more than four percent monthly, (2) the Black Diamond trading was based on an advisory system created by qualified platform developers, (3) the risks of trading forex through Black Diamond were limited and (4) sufficient funds were available to be returned to customers upon request. However, no forex trading was ever conducted through the Black Diamond trading platform, and the Black Diamond trading platform never existed, according to the complaint.

The individual defendants also allegedly 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. For example, the individual defendants misused customer funds to start side businesses and for cash withdrawals, lavish trips, such as a sky diving trip, maid services, cars, home improvements and real estate, such as purchasing 47 acres of land and constructing a lavish home.

To conceal the fraud, Simmons, with the assistance of Salazar, Coats and Davey, issued false customer account statements reflecting the promised returns or more based on Black Diamond’s purportedly successful forex trading. However, as of early 2009, the defendants allegedly could not meet customers’ requests for their funds, yet reassured customers that their funds were safe. During this time, they also allegedly continued to solicit new customers, accept additional deposits from existing customers and issue monthly statements to all customers showing significant forex trading profits.

Relief defendants named

Defendant Deanna Salazar’s husband, Lawrence Salazar, and eight corporate entities controlled by Simmons, Coats, Davey and others are named in the complaint as relief defendants for allegedly receiving funds as a result of the defendants’ fraudulent conduct to which they had no legitimate entitlement.

In its continuing litigation, the CFTC seeks restitution to defrauded customers, disgorgement from the defendants and the relief defendants, civil monetary penalties and permanent trading and registration bans.

On December 16, 2010, in a related criminal action brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina, Simmons was convicted on charges of securities fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Simmons currently is incarcerated in Mecklenburg County, N.C., while awaiting sentencing. On December 7, 2010, Salazar pleaded guilty to charges of investment fraud conspiracy and tax evasion and is currently awaiting sentencing.

The CFTC thanks the Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Securities, for their assistance in this matter.

The CFTC Division of Enforcement staff members responsible for this case are Alan Edelman, Maura Viehmeyer, Stephen Tsai, Anne Termine, James H. Holl III, Gretchen L. Lowe and Vincent A. McGonagle.

Media Contact
Dennis Holden

Last Updated: February 16, 2011