AP News

Attorney: Payback chance minuscule in Ponzi scheme

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota attorney who won a multimillion-dollar civil judgment against a foreign currency trader accused of defrauding hundreds of investors in a Ponzi scheme says there's "minuscule" chance that investors will get any of their money back.

Jeffery Lowrance is expected to be ordered to pay restitution to victims of the scheme after reaching a plea deal in Chicago on federal charges of wire fraud and money laundering.

But attorney Wanda Howey-Fox said it's unlikely that Lowrance, 51, has any remaining assets to reimburse the hundreds of investors he defrauded.

"We have looked and looked and looked and haven't been able to turn up any money," Howey-Fox said Wednesday. "He was quite the spender. He's had bowling tournaments and he liked to travel and he liked to sponsor other people's tournaments."

Lowrance was arrested in Peru in February 2011 and extradited to the U.S. in July 2011 to face charges in the northern district of Illinois in a scheme to bilk some 400 investors of more than $25 million. He pleaded guilty last month to one count each of wire fraud and money laundering.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison, but the plea agreement signed by Lowrance and prosecutors recommends about 12½ to 15½ years. A judge will have the final say at Lowrance's Sept. 28 sentencing.

In September 2009, U.S. District Court of South Dakota Judge Karen Schreier issued a default judgment of more than $40 million against Lowrance, who never showed up in court or responded to the lawsuit filed by some 200 plaintiffs. Schreier later approved punitive damages of three times the default judgment.

"Unless he starts another Ponzi scheme or unless he happens to be lucky enough to win the lottery, the chance that he will ever be able to pay is so slim as to be minuscule," Howey-Fox said.

The plaintiffs in the civil case accused Lowrance and his New Zealand-based First Capital Savings & Loan of fraud, breach of contract and fraudulent mismanagement of offshore foreign currency exchange accounts.

The suit said Lowrance failed to make the promised currency trades, transferred money from one client's account to another to keep up the appearance of earnings, and used proceeds for personal gain and other business ventures, including an alternative newspaper he started called USA Tomorrow.

Lowrance's court-appointed attorney in the Illinois case, federal public defender Mary Judge, said she couldn't comment on Lowrance's finances. But she noted that those represented by her office have to first sign affidavits saying they're indigent.

Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago, said orders of restitution are mandatory in such federal criminal cases regardless of a defendant's ability to pay. The government can continue collection efforts for up to 20 years after a defendant is released from prison, he said.

Lowrance, who has also lived in California, Houston and Panama, has been on the Internal Revenue Service's radar at least as far back as 2007, according to an affidavit in the Illinois case.

Two undercover IRS agents met with Lowrance in Panama in 2008, and Lowrance said his company had 419 clients and was managing about $37 million. He told them that First Capital paid interest rates of 3 percent to 5 percent per month through the foreign exchange trading program, according to the affidavit.

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