Two Chicago-Area Defendants Charged with Alleged Commodities Fraud in Separate Federal Criminal Cases

October 26, 2012

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on October 25, 2012 released the following:

“CHICAGO—Two defendants were charged with commodities fraud in unrelated cases, federal law enforcement officials announced today. In one case, an investment firm officer was charged with defrauding customers of approximately $2.5 million. In the other case, a former clerk for a lean hogs futures trader was arrested today and charged with manipulating trades to generate a profit of more than $225,000 for herself.

Joshua T. J. Russo, 30, of Chicago, a former vice president of alternative investments for Olympus Futures Inc. (previously Peak Trading Group), was charged with a single count of commodities fraud in a criminal information filed today. In a separate case, Nicole M. Graziano, 32, of Roselle, a former trading clerk, was charged with four counts of commodities fraud in an indictment returned yesterday by a federal grand jury.

Graziano was arrested this morning and later released on a $10,000 unsecured bond after pleading not guilty before U.S. District Judge James Zagel. Russo was not arrested and will be arraigned at later date in federal court.

The charges were announced by Gary S. Shapiro, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and William C. Monroe, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Each count of commodities fraud carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine, and restitution is mandatory. If convicted, the court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal sentencing statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.

The government is being represented in both cases by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher McFadden.

The investigation falls under the umbrella of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch and, with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes. For more information on the task force, visit http://www.stopfraud.gov.

An indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The details of each case follow.

United States. V. Russo, 12 CR 836

Between March 2007 and April 2011, Russo fraudulently obtained approximately $2.5 million from at least six investors and caused losses of more than $1.3 million, including approximately $208,000 in commissions for himself that he spent on gambling, vacations, clothing, theater tickets, meals, and entertainment, the charges allege. Russo obtained the funds by misrepresenting to investors that their funds would be used to purchase various investments, including shares of the Peak Performance Fund, which he knew had never accepted individual investors, and no money was ever invested with the fund. Russo allegedly made false statements about his prior performance investing in commodity futures, the level of risk, the existence and trading performance of the Peak Performance Fund, and the uses of the funds he obtained from investors. He concealed the fraud by creating and distributing false e-mails, spreadsheets, statements, and audit reports, the charges allege.

Instead of investing the funds as he purported, Russo misappropriated the money to make speculative trades—and regularly lost money—in various commodity futures, including energy sources, precious metals, agriculture products, foreign currencies, and stock indices. After providing one investor with false information about positive returns, Russo successfully encouraged that investor to refer friends and relatives to open accounts through him, resulting in additional victims.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the National Futures Association assisted in the investigation.

United States. V. Graziano, 12 CR 834

Between September 2009 and August 2010, Graziano, who was a clerk for a floor trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, now CME Group, secretly inserted trade cards for her own personal orders into the decks of trade cards submitted by public customers that she provided to floor traders to execute during the opening and closing brackets of trading in lean hogs futures contracts, the charges allege. She then fraudulently allocated lower purchase prices to her buy orders, and higher prices to her sell orders, to the detriment of public customers, according to the indictment. Graziano allegedly submitted at least 104 fraudulent trade cards to the appropriate clearing firms, resulting in illegal profits to her of $13,390 during the opening bracket and $213,680 during the closing bracket.

The CME Group assisted in the investigation.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Texas Man Pleads Guilty to Commodities Fraud in Foreign Currency Ponzi Scheme

June 9, 2010

Ray M. White, 51, pleaded guilty today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul D. Stickney in Dallas to a criminal information charging him with one count of commodities fraud, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks of the Northern District of Texas.

According to court documents, White admitted that in July 2008 he contracted with an investor to sell $50,000 in commodities through CRW Management LP, which White operated in Mansfield, Texas. White admitted that, from July 2008 until January 2009, he knowingly and willfully cheated and defrauded, made false statements to, and deceived the investor by making several misrepresentations in connection with the contract to sell commodities.

Specifically, according to court documents, White represented to the investor that his funds would be used to trade off-exchange foreign currency contracts and that CRW averaged 7 percent per week returns through off-exchange foreign currency trading. According to the court documents, White provided written account statements showing purported returns, and represented to this investor that CRW would maintain separate bank accounts for each investor. White admitted that in fact, these account statements were false and that he did not maintain separate bank accounts for the investors.

According to the criminal information, the vast majority of the funds were never used to trade off-exchange foreign currency. White admitted that he either misappropriated investor funds or paid them to other investors in the form of Ponzi payments. White admitted losing more than $86,500 on off-exchange foreign currency trading, rather than making the 7 percent per week profits he claimed.

According to March 2009 emergency civil enforcement actions filed in the Northern District of Texas by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), White solicited at least $10.9 million from late 2006 until March 2009 from more than 250 investors to trade in the foreign currency market. The SEC and CFTC court documents also allege that CRW never traded off-exchange foreign currency, and that White lost money in the limited off-exchange foreign currency trading in which he engaged. According to the SEC and CFTC court documents, White used at most $93,900 of the $10.9 million he raised to trade in the foreign currency market. The remaining approximately $10.8 million was either misappropriated or returned to CRW customers as part of the Ponzi scheme. The complaint filed by the SEC states that White used the funds to finance his son’s car-racing career, to purchase a company called Hurricane Motorsports LLC, in Arlington, Texas, and to purchase a home and other real property.

The SEC and CFTC court documents also state that White was never registered with the SEC or the CFTC, and has never been licensed to sell securities. While White led investors to believe that his special expertise in trading foreign currencies would yield exceptional returns, in reality he was not a successful foreign currency trader and had no lucrative foreign currency trading fund or program. In fact, White filed for bankruptcy in 2003 and in 2006, a fact he concealed from investors.

White faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a maximum fine of $1 million.

Foreign currency trading fraud has risen in the past few years, and the federal government is actively pursuing violations. The CFTC has jurisdiction and authority to investigate and take legal action to close down unregulated firms offering or selling foreign currency futures and options contracts to the general public. The CFTC also has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute foreign currency fraud occurring in its registered firms and their affiliates.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, Interpol Litigation, International Extradition and OFAC Litigation.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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