UPDATED: 4:24pm, Monday, July 30, 2012
The court-appointed receiver in what is being called a $90M Ponzi scheme says the outlook for Ron Wilson's silver investors looks grim.
Wilson, a former Anderson County Councilman and head of Atlantic Bullion & Coin, is cooperating with investigators after pleading to mail fraud charges in connection with his Silver Ponzi scheme, said Attorney Beattie Ashmore, who was appointed as receiver by US District Judge J. Michelle Childs.
“As we stand here today, I would paint a very dim picture,” Ashmore said.
He referred to another Ponzi scheme prosecuted by US Attorney Bill Nettles' office. The three men involved in that $82 million Ponzi scheme each received more than 20 years imprisonment.
“We returned $19 million about two months ago to over 4,000 victims,” Ashmore said. “We started with $17 million in the bank. We're starting in this case with zero in the bank.
“That's changing,” Ashmore continued. “The Secret Service has seized some money. The Attorney General's Office has seized some money.”
Ashmore said determining the amount of payouts to victims, and who gets paid first, will be “very complicated.”
“If you've got money from Ron Wilson, we're going to come back after you and get that money back,” Ashmore said. “If you gave him money and don't have a penny to show for it, you'll be getting on top of the list in terms of recovering monies, but we'll have to recover those monies. I'm sure the court will will order full restitution to the extent that full restitution can be made.”
The investigation of Wilson's assets is “just getting started,” Ashmore said. “We have 10 years of bank records to examine. Mr. Wilson is being very cooperative with us. That being said, there is a significant amount of money still missing. Any asset of asset of Ron Wilson's, we will aggressively go after that asset, turn it into money and distribute that money to the victims.”
“Things are sort of bleak,” he said. “Before you can decide how much money you give out, you have to figure out two things: one, how much assets you've got, and how many victims they are. What comes out in terms of payout is a function, roughly, of those two numbers. We're still in the processing of assessing exactly how many victims we have.”
Assistant United States Attorney Bill Watkins said Wilson's plea is a standard plea agreement, not a plea bargain.
“Mr. Wilson plead guilty to all charges, agreed to cooperate, agreed to take a polygraph,” Watkins said. “There is no giveaway here. The victims can rest solid knowing that we asked him to plead to every charge, and he did so. It's a solid plea agreement and a good agreement for the government and for the victims.”
There is no timetable for sentencing. Judge Childs will sentence Wilson after receiving and reviewing a pre-sentence investigation report from the US Probation Office.
The maximum penalty Wilson faces is 20 imprisonment and a $250,000 fines for each count. Since he is charged with two counts of mail fraud, Wilson could be facing up to 40 years in prison.
“The court certainly has discretion …. to go higher than 20 years,” Watkins said. “Judge Childs is a very good district judge. The government is confident she will do the right thing once she gets input from the probation office and talks to both parties.”
Prosecutors were asked why Wilson was only charged with two counts of mail fraud, when hundreds of victims were involved.
“That was what we thought was the case we could make,” Nettles said.
He said his office did not consult with the victims about the plea agreement.
“We feel that we have more of an obligation to talk to victims if we're agreeing to reduce charges,” Nettles said. “Because of the type of case (Watkins) put together, the type of case law enforcement put together … it's such an extraordinarily solid case. You hear plea bargain? There wasn't a plea bargain. He plead to what we charged him. There wasn't any plea down.”
Nettles said he hopes the case sends a message to anyone contemplating a similar scheme.
“This office has been very, very aggressive on prosecuting white collar crime,” he said.
Prosecutors and investigators were asked what was keeping Wilson from fleeing sentencing, after he posted a $1 million bond through a bondsman.
“He knows that if he leaves we'll find him,” Nettles said. “If he leaves, when we find him, we'll charge him with more stuff. He's not going anywhere.”
Nettles said he could “neither confirm nor deny” if Wilson acted alone in the Ponzi scheme.
A website has been set up where victims can get information about the case: http://www.receiverwilsonabc.com
ORIGINAL REPORT: 3:22pm, Monday, July 30, 2012
Former Anderson County Councilman Ron Wilson has plead guilty to two counts of mail fraud concerning what investigators are calling a $90M Ponzi scheme, and investigators say Wilson is cooperating with them as the investigation continues.
U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles announced this afternoon that Ronnie Gene Wilson, 64, of Easley, and Atlantic Bullion & Coin had entered a guilty plea to the mail fraud charges.
“Today's an important milestone for the over 800 victims of the Ponzi scheme developed and operated by Ron Wilson,” Nettles said. “Wilson has plead.”
Beginning in 2001 and continuing to early 2012, Wilson operated a Ponzi scheme. Wilson told investors he would buy silver on their behalf and hold that silver at Delaware depository, Nettles said.
But Wilson did not purchase the silver as he claimed, and lied to his clients about their supposed silver holdings at the Delaware depository.
“He created fictitious account statements for clients that showed purported silver holdings but in fact, he had not bought any silver,” Nettles said.
Wilson also purported to trade the silver by buying at low prices and then selling at peak prices to earn profits, Nettles said.
“There were phantom trades,” Nettles said. “Wilson used the money received from clients' for his personal benefit. He also used money from newer clients to make payouts to earlier clients when these earlier clients requested draws on their accounts.”
Recovering money and assets that can be used to repay victims is a priority for Nettles' office and law enforcement, he said.
Attorney Beattie Ashmore is the court appointed receiver in this case.
“My job is fairly simple, to locate assets, maintain them, liquidate them, and make distribution to the investors,” he said. “While it's simple in concept, it's a very complicated process. We're just getting started.”
Investigators and prosecutors said the case was a classic example of multiple agencies working together quickly.
“This matter arose in the spring of this year,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Watkins said. “And here we are in late July, with a guilty plea in this case, a receiver and things moving forward.”
He acknowledge that some will feel that the progress has been slow.
“However, for the Justice system, we've been moving rapidly in this case,” Watkins said.
Nettles was asked if he foresaw any additional charges or arrests in the case.
“I can tell you we will run everything down,” Nettles said. “We won't leave anything unturned.”
He had a message for those following the the press coverage of the Wilson and
AB & C Ponzi scheme.
“If you're watching this and you're involved in this, I'd be worried,” Nettles said.
Check back with Patch for more details on the press conference regarding Wilson's guilty plea.