NEW YORK—Abdul Walji, chief executive officer, and Reniero Francisco, president, of Arista LLC, a California-based investment fund, were charged in connection with a six-count criminal complaint, defrauding their investors, and misappropriating millions of dollars, announced U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara and the FBI Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Office George Venizelos. From 2010 through 2011, Walji and Francisco allegedly solicited numerous investors for the fund by misrepresenting its nature and performance, issued fraudulent account statements to investors to cover up massive losses, and misappropriated at least $2.7 million of investor funds for their own personal use. Walji and Francisco were arrested by the FBI this morning at their residences in California and will be presented in federal court in the Central District of California, Santa Ana branch, this afternoon.
“As alleged, Abdul Walji and Reniero Francisco managed what was more investment fraud than investment fund—luring unsuspecting clients into investing only to divert millions to themselves, wiping out some of their clients’ entire life savings. When hiring investment advisers, people are entitled to expect they will act in the client’s best interests, but investors also need to be vigilant because even the records they receive may be falsified,” stated U.S. Attorney Bharara.
“The defendants allegedly conned dozens of investors with false promises. Instead of investing their savings in the risk-free securities claimed, the defendants put investors’ money in highly speculative investments—if they invested it at all. They took money under false pretenses and lied about the performance of their clients’ portfolios. The FBI is determined to protect the public by rooting out unscrupulous money managers,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos.
According to the allegations in the complaint unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
Arista began operations as an investment firm in February 2010, with its principal place of business in Newport Coast, California. On April 20, 2011, Arista became a registered commodity pool operator with the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and a member of the National Futures Association (NFA).
In early 2010, Walji and Francisco began to solicit individuals to invest in Arista. In connection with those efforts, Francisco solicited and recruited several of his former clients from the large broker-dealership at which he previously worked. Several of Francisco’s former clients contributed large portions of their savings, including their retirement savings, for an investment in Arista. Walji and Francisco collected nearly $10 million from over 35 investors, of which only approximately $7.5 million was invested in S&P 500 future contracts and U.S. Treasury Bond options.
From February 2010 through December 2011, Walji and Francisco carried out their fraudulent scheme through three methods. First, Walji and Francisco misrepresented to several Arista investors the nature of the firm’s investments and the returns that investors would receive from investing in Arista. For example, Walji and Francisco falsely told investors that their money would be invested in safe, risk-free securities, while, in fact, much of the money was invested in options and futures. Second, Walji and Francisco caused fraudulent account performance statements to be sent to Arista investors that misrepresented the value of the investors’ investments with Arista. Specifically, in an effort to secure additional contributions from investors, at times when investors were losing money they had already invested, Walji and Francisco concealed Arista’s trading losses and misrepresented that the investors were profiting from their investments. Third, Walji and Francisco misappropriated at least approximately $2.7 million from Arista’s investors that they diverted for their own personal benefit.
Walji, 60, of San Juan Capistrano, California, and Francisco, 56, of Newport Coast, California, are both charged in the complaint with conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud, securities fraud, and wire fraud. Walji is also charged separately with commodities fraud. The securities fraud and wire fraud charges each carry a maximum term of 20 years in prison; the commodities fraud charge carries a maximum term of 10 years in prison; and the conspiracy charge carries a maximum term of five years in prison.