Philadelphia-area man charged in $50M Ponzi scheme

January 9, 2009 4:09:14 AM PST
An investment manager accused of stealing from as many as 80 investors.

Joseph S. Forte, 53, of Broomall, was given the money to invest between 1995 and 2008, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Thursday.

Through his firm, Joseph Forte LP, he either lost it playing the market or didn't invest it at all, federal authorities said.

Meanwhile, Forte was telling his investors that he was making huge profits, investigators said.

His portfolio in September reported a value of more than $150 million but its trading account contained less than $147,000, according to an SEC complaint filed Wednesday.

The commission said Forte admitted using as much as $20 million in investor funds to repay other investors and withdrawing up to $12 million in so-called fees for his own use.

Investigators, however, said that account statements provided to Forte LP investors show he actually pocketed $28 million.

Forte, who is charged with fraud and related counts, did not return messages left by The Associated Press.

The investors thought their money was going into a commodity futures pool that traded in securities futures contracts, including S&P 500 stock index futures.

The SEC said Forte admitted falsifying investment returns from the beginning.

Many of the alleged victims of the scheme were Forte's friends and acquaintances, said Daniel M. Hawke, director of the SEC's Philadelphia Regional Office.

"Using other people's money, Forte promised and reported outrageous returns over more than a 10-year period," Hawke said, "and because of his relationships with investors was able to lull them into trusting him with their funds."

U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond issued an emergency order freezing Forte's assets and requiring him to turn over pertinent financial documents.

The SEC said its investigation was continuing.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, named the plaintiff in a related civil complaint, said Forte did not deposit any money into the trading account from October 2002 to February 2007.

"Ponzi schemers succeed by creating an illusion of profitability through lies and deceit," said Stephen J. Obie, acting enforcement director of the federal oversight agency.

"We are committed to rooting out miscreants who, like Forte, destroy the lives of innocent victims and, ultimately, undermine the confidence of investors everywhere."

The commission wants Forte to pay fines and full restitution and seeks to have him permanently banned from commodities trading.