CFTC News Release 4389-00 (Civ-PJM-98-3316)

For Release April 3, 2000


Federal District Court Finds That CFTC Has Jurisdiction Over Defendantsí Sale of Foreign Currency Contracts; Orders Baragosh to Pay Over $6.4 Million in Restitution and Fines

WASHINGTON -- The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced today that a federal district court has found that Esfand Baragosh, principal of Noble Wealth Data Information Services, Inc. (Noble Wealth), violated federal commodity laws by making fraudulent claims concerning Noble Wealth's illegal foreign currency contracts. The court also found that Baragosh "bucketed" customer trades.

On March 20, 2000, Judge Peter J. Messitte of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland permanently barred Baragosh from the commodities industry, and ordered him to pay $5,264,251 in restitution to defrauded customers and $1,211,058 as a civil monetary penalty. Baragosh and the other defendants had never been registered with the Commission in any capacity and their business activities were not regulated by other federal authorities. The court’s decision arises out of a four-count complaint filed by the CFTC against Baragosh, Noble Wealth and others on October 1, 1998 (See CFTC News Release 4195-98, October 6, 1998).

In its opinion, the court described an elaborate scheme through which Noble Wealth and Baragosh solicited foreign currency "traders" using help-wanted advertisements in the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other newspapers. The court found that Noble Wealth brochures claimed to provide traders with access to the "interbank market" and training that would permit them to trade foreign currencies in German Deutschemarks, Swiss Francs, Japanese Yen, and British Pounds.

The court concluded that "Noble Wealth's entire premise was misleading," adding that the "nature of the interbank market is such that it was impossible for Noble Wealth to provide its traders with the ability to place trades on the interbank market." The court observed that the interbank market consists of the trading of foreign currency contracts between investment banks and other large institutional investors. Rather than providing customers with access to this market for sophisticated traders or providing access to markets where customer orders are executed through legitimate purchases and sales with other traders, the court found that Noble Wealth was simply "bucketing" customer orders by arranging for a Hong Kong firm, Noble Wealth Development, Ltd., to take the opposite side of customers' positions.

The court also found that Baragosh and other Noble Wealth instructors provided trainees with brochures that projected investment returns of 31.5 percent in a matter of days and 192.5 percent in one month. The brochures also made favorable comparisons between foreign currency trading and investments in stocks and mutual funds. The court concluded that Baragosh knew that all of Noble Wealth's customers lost the bulk of their investments, but continued to claim that traders could earn substantial profits.

The court also ruled that Noble Wealth's foreign currency contracts constituted futures contracts within the Commission's jurisdiction. The court considered the applicability of a provision of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA), commonly known as the "Treasury Amendment," which excludes from the Commission's jurisdiction futures and options transactions involving foreign currencies not conducted on a "board of trade." The court noted that "Noble Wealth engaged in 'mass marketing to small investors' by providing a foreign currency trading facility that allowed them, with a minimum deposit, to become 'traders' at its board of trade." The Noble Wealth facility provided customers with mechanisms to get prices, make and execute orders, and offset those orders with matching opposite transactions.

The courtís ruling against Baragosh concludes this litigation. Earlier, on October 27, 1999, the court had granted default judgments and entered a permanent injunction against the other defendants Noble Wealth, International Advanced Investment, Inc. (IAI), and Currex International Corporation (Currex). In its March 20th ruling, the court ruled that IAI was also managed by Baragosh and that IAI became the name under which the Maryland Noble Wealth office began doing business shortly before the CFTC filed this action. Currex, the court ruled, was the company which purported in June 1998 to "take over" Noble Wealth accounts in Georgia and which Baragosh had managed in the same fashion as he had Noble Wealth. The complaint alleged, from August 1994 to the present, the defendants violated the anti-fraud and various other provisions of the CEA and CFTC regulations by cheating and defrauding, and willfully deceiving customers, offering and selling illegal futures contracts on foreign currencies, misappropriating customer funds, and bucketing orders.

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