- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents yesterday arrested a father and his daughter in Tampa, Fla., in a suspected investment-fraud scheme that duped international victims into paying more than $70 million for shares of phony stock.

ICE spokeswoman Kadia H. Koroma in Washington said Paul Robert Gunter, 58, of Odessa, Fla., and Zibiah Joy Gunter, 25, Oldsmar, Fla., were charged in a criminal complaint for conspiring to commit and committing substantive acts of mail, wire and securities fraud, and money laundering.

“ICE will continue working with its law-enforcement partners here and abroad to hold criminals involved in stock fraud accountable for their actions,” said Robert Weber, ICE special agent-in-charge of the agency’s Office of Investigations in Tampa.

“These two criminals demonstrated a callous disregard for the hard earned money of individuals who thought that they were legitimately investing in their future.”

According to the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Tampa, the Gunters and others engaged in a securities-fraud scheme beginning in spring 2005 in which they hijacked the identities of dormant, publicly traded companies; fraudulently caused the issuance of shares of stock in the companies to conspirators and entities controlled by others; and sold virtually worthless shares of stock in the companies to victim-investors in the United Kingdom through high pressure and misleading sales techniques.

The complaint also said the two caused victims to wire their investment funds from the United Kingdom to bank accounts in Florida and elsewhere; and used the funds to perpetuate the scheme and for their own personal enrichment.

Ms. Koroma said the investigation found that the conspirators used more than 50 publicly traded shell companies and that the victims wired in excess of $70 million to the conspirators.

She said the conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment; the mail-fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years; the wire-fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years; the securities-fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of 25 years; and the money-laundering charge carries a maximum penalty of 25 years along with a fine of twice the gross gain to the defendants or twice the gross loss to the victims, whichever is greater.

“This is part of an ongoing investigation into a mass-marketing crime scam known as boiler-room fraud. Thousands of British people have fallen victim to this crime — in this inquiry alone, we estimate that around 15,000 mostly elderly people have lost money,” said Robert Wishart, head of the money-laundering unit at the City of London Police.

“Criminals may think that because they are laundering money through a number of foreign jurisdictions, they will not be caught,” he said. “This action today demonstrates how effective the law-enforcement community can be in ensuring there is no hiding place for criminals or their money.”

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