Esquemas de Ponzi notáveis

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O epónimo dos esquemas de Ponzi foi orquestrado por Charles Ponzi, que em seis meses passou do anomimato a milionário bastante conhecido em Boston usando tal esquema em 1920. Os lucros provinham supostamente da arbitragem de cupões-resposta internacionais. Ponzi prometia um juro de 50% em 45 dias ou a “duplicação do capital” em 90 dias. Cerca de 40 mil pessoas investiram aproximadamente 15 milhões de dólares (cerca de 150 milhões em dólares de 2006); no fim, apenas recuperaram um terço do dinheiro investido.

Os esquemas de maior montante

Além do esquema de Ponzi, historicamente destacaram-se pelos montantes envolvidos os esquemas:

  • Antes de Ponzi, em 1899, William "520 por cento" Miller fundou a empresa "Franklin Sindicate" em Brooklyn, Nova Iorque. Miller prometia 10% à semana em juros e explorou algumas da principais técnicas do esquema de Ponzi, nomeadamente o reinvestimento dos juros pelos clientes. Defraudou os compradores em 1 milhão de dólares e foi sentenciado a 10 anos de prisão. Quando foi perdoado, abriu uma mercearia em Long Island. Durante a investigação do esquema de Ponzi, Miller foi entrevistado pelo Boston Post para comparar o seu esquema com o de Ponzi — o entrevistador encontrou semelhanças notáveis, mas o esquema de Ponzi ficou mais famoso por ter arrecadado sete vezes mais dinheiro.[1]
  • Em Portugal, entre 1970 e 1984, uma mulher conhecida por Dona Branca manteve um esquema que pagava 10% de juros ao mês. Em 1988 foi sentenciada a 10 anos de prisão. Sempre alegou que estava apenas a tentar ajudar os pobres, contudo no julgamento ficou provado que recebeu uma quantia equivalente a 85 milhões de euros.[2][3]
  • Mil e seiscentos investidores nas firmas Diamond Mortgage Company e A. J. Obie, que tinham a mesma gerência, perderam aproximadamente 50 milhões de dólares num esquema classificado pelo Michigan Court of Appeals como "o maior esquema de Ponzi registado na história do estado". Deu origem ao MBLSA (Mortgage Brokers, Lenders, and Servicers Act).[4][5]
  • MMM was a Russian company that existed in the 1990s. It involved at least two million people and collected as much as $1.5 billion. The founder was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison in 2007.
  • From 1993 until 1997 a church named Greater Ministries International in Tampa, Florida, headed by Gerald Payne bilked over 18,000 people out of 500 million dollars.[6] Payne and other church elders promised the church members double their money back citing Biblical scripture. However, nearly all the money was lost and hidden away. Church leaders received prison sentences ranging from 13 to 27 years.
  • In autumn of 1994, the European Kings Club collapsed, causing a damage of about $1.1 billion. This scam was led by Damara Bertges and Hans Günther Spachtholz. In the Swiss cantons Uri and Glarus about every tenth adult invested into the EKC. The scam involved buying "letters" valued at 1,400 francs that entitled buyers to receive 12 monthly payments of 200 francs. The organisation was based in Gelnhausen, GermanyPredefinição:Fact
  • In May 1995, Pennsylvania's attorney general moved to freeze the assets of the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy and its chairman, John G. Bennett, Jr. The organization had raised over $500 million from 1,100 donors. Participants, including the Red Cross, had believed they were participating in a matching-gifts program through New Era but, in fact it was simply a Ponzi scheme. Losses amounted to $135 million.
  • In early 1996, the SEC filed a civil action against Bennett Funding Group, its chief financial officer, Patrick R. Bennett, and other companies Bennett controlled, in connection with a massive Ponzi scheme. The companies fraudulently raised hundreds of millions of dollars, purportedly to purchase assignments of equipment leases and promissory notes. [3]
  • In 1997 the government of Albania officially endorsed a series of pyramid investment funds. When the inevitable end came, the people of Albania, who had lost $1.2 billion, took their protest to the streets in a revolt that toppled the government.
  • In December 2005, in Los Angeles, California, Larry Toshio Osaki, who ran a gigantic Ponzi scheme and continued to offer bogus investments in accounts receivable "factoring" after being ordered to stop by a federal judge, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. In addition to the prison term, Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered Osaki to pay more than $145 million in restitution to victims.
  • In October 2006, in Malaysia, two prominent members of society and several others were held for running an alleged scam, known as SwissCash or Swiss Mutual Fund (1948). SwissCash offered a returns of up to 300% within a 15-month investment period. Currently, this HYIP investment is offered to citizens of Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. It claimed investors’ funds were channeled to business activities ranging from oil exploration to shipping and agriculture in the Caribbean. The company claims to be operating out of New York and incorporated in Commonwealth of Dominica.[7][8][9]
  • On Friday 13 April 2007 a person named Sibt-e-Hassan Shah aka "Double Shah" was arrested by government officials in Wazirabad, a small town of Pakistan.[10] Sibt-e-Hassan claimed to double the money within 30 days in the beginning of his scheme and later 90 days. He is suspected to have gathered very large investments (approx US$ 1 Billion) in a very short time period.
  • The Brothers was a large investment operation, eventually revealed to be a Ponzi scheme, in Costa Rica from the late 1980s until 2002. The fund was operated by brothers Luis Enrique and Osvaldo Villalobos. Investigators determined that the scam took in at least $400 million. Most of the clientele were American and Canadian retirees but some Costa Ricans also invested the minimum $10,000. About 6,300 individuals ultimately were involved. Interest rates were 3% per month, usually paid in cash, or 2.8% compounded. The ability to pay such high interest was attributed to Luis Enrique Villalobos’ existing agricultural aviation business, investment in unspecified European high yield funds, and loans to Coca Cola, among others. Osvaldo Villalobos’ role was primarily to move money around a large number of shell companies and then pay investors. In May 2007 Osvaldo Villalobos was sentenced to 18 years in prison for fraud and illegal banking. Luis Enrique Villalobos remains a fugitive. [4]
  • On August 17, 2007, the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation filed syndicated estafa cases against 27 officers and investors of Francswiss Investment, a "Ponzi" pyramiding scam on the Internet. Charged were Michael Mansfield, chief financial officer; Kurt Sandelman, risk management team leader; Rupert Benedict Da Vinco, investment team leader; Julia Rodriguez, international banking team leader; Hector Willem Sidberg, marketing and international affairs; and Fernando Munoz, customer service leader; Roger Smith, the British chief operation officer of FS Investment in the Asia-Pacific region; Bensy Fong, the Singaporean system operation officer; Raymond Chua, Singaporean marketing officer; a certain Michelle and Mike, Filipino secretaries and collectors of money from investors; 16 investors, including arrested suspect Eleazard Castillo, 26, a native of Cabuyao, Ilocos Sur, allegedly one of the financial advisers of Francswiss Investment. 41 investors claimed they lost a total of $75,000 to the investment scheme. Francswiss deceived investors in the Philippines of P1 billion.[11]
  • On June 27, 2007 former boy band mogul and notorious con artist Lou Pearlman was indicted by a grand jury on several counts of fraud which is turning out to be one of the largest United States Ponzi schemes ever to the tune of $317 million dollars. The final total may rest somewhere near $500 million dollars.[12] Pearlman's scam involved bilking innocent investors out of their savings with a fraudlent savings and loans program claiming it to be FDIC insured though it was not. He also conned several banks out of millions of dollars in loans for projects he never started. He then used that money to pay back certain investors and continue his ponzi scheme. His scheme may have been going on for 12 years. A trial date is set for March 3, 2008.[13]

Other notable schemes

Other notable (but lesser dollar) Ponzi schemes include:

  • Sarah Howe, who in 1880 opened up a "Ladies Deposit" in Boston promising eight percent interest, although she had no method of making profits. This unique scheme was billed as "for women only". Howe disappeared with the money from her scam.[1]
  • The novel Chance by Joseph Conrad depicted a Ponzi scheme in 1914 before Ponzi himself had hit the scene. Conrad's scammer "de Barral" offered ten percent interest on deposits in his operation "without system, plan, foresight, or judgement".
  • On March 22, 2000, four people were indicted in the Northern District of Ohio, on charges including conspiracy to commit and committing mail and wire fraud. A company with which the defendants were affiliated allegedly collected more than $26 million from "investors" without selling any product or service, and paid older investors with the proceeds of the money collected from the newer investors. [5]
  • In late 2003, a scheme by Bill Hickman, Sr., and his son, Bill Jr., was shut down. He had been selling unregistered securities that promised yields of up to 20 percent; more than $8 million was defrauded from dozens of residents of Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma, along with investors from as far away as California. [6] Hickman was sentenced to 160 years in state prison.
  • In December 2004, Mark Drucker pleaded guilty to a Ponzi scheme in which he told investors that he would use their funds to buy and sell securities through a brokerage account. He claimed that he was making significant profits on his day trades and that he had opportunities to invest in select IPOs that were likely to turn a substantial profit in a short period of time. He promised guaranteed returns of up to fifty (50%) percent in 90 days or less. In less than two years of trading, Drucker actually lost more than $850,000 in day trading and had no special access to IPOs. He paid out more than $3.6 million to investors while taking in $6.3 million. [7] [8]
  • In June 2005, in Los Angeles, California, John C. Jeffers was sentenced to 168 months (14 years) in federal prison and ordered to pay $26 million in restitution to more than 80 victims. Jeffers and his confederate John Minderhout ran what they said was a high-yield investment program they called the “Short Term Financing Transaction.” The funds were collected from investors around the world from 1996 through 2000. Some investors were told that proceeds would be used to finance humanitarian projects around the globe, such as low-cost housing for the poor in developing nations. Jeffers sent letters to some victims that falsely claimed the program had been licensed by the Federal Reserve and the program had a relationship with the International Monetary Fund and the United States Treasury. Jeffers and Minderhout promised investors profits of up to 4,000 percent. Most of the money collected in the scheme went to Jeffers to pay commissions to salespeople, to make payments to investors to keep the scheme going, and to pay his own personal expenses. [9]
  • In February 2006, Edmundo Rubi pleaded guilty to bilking hundreds of middle and low-income investors out of more than $24 million between 1999 and 2001, when he fled the U.S. after becoming aware that he was under suspicion. The investors in the scheme, called “Knight Express”, were told that their funds would be used to purchase and resell Federal Reserve notes, and were promised a six percent monthly return. Most of those bilked were part of the Filipino community in San Diego. [10]
  • On May 10, 2006, Spanish police arrested 9 people associated with Forum Filatelico and Afinsa Bienes Tangibles in an apparent Ponzi scheme that affected 250,000 investors from 1998 to 2001. Investors were promised huge returns from investments in a stamp fund. [11]
  • 12DailyPro was a version of what is commonly known as a "paid autosurf" program where "investors" deposited money and received an extremely high profit (44%) within a short period (12 days). Charis Johnson created what authorities considered one of the largest modern day versions of the Ponzi scheme. She accumulated a total of over US$1.9 million from the program. More than 300,000 people joined over the course of 8 months, spending over $500 million [12]. When a federal investigation of 12DailyPro took place, its main payment processor, Stormpay, froze all funds related to it. Stormpay has since refused to return any of these funds. On February 24, 2006, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ordered 12DailyPro and its parent company to cease and desist all operations. On February 28, a Los Angeles judge ordered all company assets and records to be turned over to an appointed receiver for investigation. Charis F. Johnson now faces criminal and civil suits from both local and federal agencies.

Stormpay also used to collect usernames and passwords and try to use them in other legitimate online payment services like PayPal.

  • High Yield Investment Programs are related to established economic rules such as supply and demand, material assets that appreciate based on value-added through high-end skills such as high-end electronics, buidings & estates, hotels, technology parks, museums, theater and organic systems such as businesses involved in producing the previously mentioned material assets. HYIPs could involve printing of cards as certificates, with units being transferable to third parties. The monetary value of units rises over time, so most holders of such cards won't want to transfer their units. At the same time, the card can be used as a means of exchange for value making it a form of money. It's like turning the HYIPs into a form of Central Bank and the units it issues become currency.
  • Matteo Quintavalle is an Italian scammer, who cheated investors with more than US$10 million by promising very high yield in Costa Rican real estates and hotels. After grabbing the money in San Francisco,California, Mr. Quintavalle went to Costa Rica and bought hotels, resorts and even soccer players ' contracts and gave false contracts to the original investors let they think they were owning those properties in Costa Rica. Mr. Quintavalle is currently under arrest awaiting trial. [13]
  • In August 2007, a bank in Second Life called “Ginko Financial” claimed it could give returns of 40% to 60%, collapsed and gone insolvent with debts of L$ 200 million (around US$750 000). Some residents have lost amounts of L$ 2.5 million (around US$10 000) in the scheme. Due to this, there have been calls for a localised version of the SEC for the site.[14]
  • On August 31, 2007, the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") filed an emergency action against James Blackman Roberts ("Roberts"), FOMAC International, Inc. ("FOMAC"), and Consultores Las Tres Americas S.A. ("Consultores LTA") to halt an ongoing Ponzi scheme and freeze assets for the benefit of defrauded investors. The complaint filed by the SEC alleges that, since 2002, the defendants have raised at least $50 million in principal from approximately 450 investors located primarily in the U.S. and Costa Rica. The complaint further alleges that as early as 2005, the defendants experienced significant losses while trading investor funds in the Forex markets, misappropriated at least $3 million, and then used new investor money to pay returns and principal to existing investors. As a result, the complaint alleges, the defendants misrepresented to investors that these Ponzi payments were actually returns from their Forex trading [14]
  • On 20 September 2007, a complaint was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, accusing political fund-raiser Norman Hsu of operating a Ponzi scheme. Hsu attracted investments by claiming to be running a legitimate business involving the importation of clothes from China, and is reported to have cheated investors out of at least $60 million. [15]
  • In September 2007, another bank in Second Life called "The Bank" owned by the in-game character "Jasper Tizzy", operated as part of an in-game group of companies known as Atlas Venture Capital (AVC) and Countless Galaxies (CGI), stopped processing customer withdrawals. This was closely followed by the disappearance of Jasper Tizzy and his staff; Paydayloan Lindman and Teanna Nomura. They claimed they could give returns on average of 10% to 20% per month and, like in many of these schemes, they were making good on their claims for several months. The beginning of the end was when a separate venture supported by The Bank, the Kristatos Fashion Mall (KFM), was abandoned by the owner, Teanna Nomura and caused AVC and CGI to prematurely cave in on themselves. As with the Ginko episode, some residents have lost amounts of L$2.5M (around US$10,000) in the scheme and more calls for Linden Labs to clamp down have been raised as a result.


  1. 1,0 1,1 Zuckoff, Mitchell. Ponzi's Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend. Random House: New York, 2005. (ISBN 1-4000-6039-7)
  2. Visão, Apanhados pelos selos, 18 May 2006.
  3. CanalSurWeb, Banqueros del pueblo, 12 May 2006
  4. "People v. Greenberg," 176 Mich App 296, 299; 439 NW2nd 336(1989) cited in U.S. Supreme Court, 05-1342, Watters vs Wachovia Bank, page 6. At [1] American Bar Association site, Retrieved August 29, 2007
  5. Keyfetz, Lisa, "The home ownership and equity protection act of 1994: extending liability for predatory subprime loans to secondary mortgage market participants." Loyola Consumer Law Review, Vol 18:2, pages 165-166. Retrieved August 29, 2007
  6. "Extremism in America: Greater Ministries International", Anti-Defamation League. Consultado em 2007-07-18. 
  7. The Star, Malaysia, 4 October 2006.
  8. Today, Singapore, 24 January 2007.
  9. Bank Negara, Malaysia, Malaysia, 5 September 2006.
  10. Ali, Hasan (April 14, 2007). Pir Double Shah arrested. Daily Times.
  11., Charges filed against 27 in alleged pyramiding scam
  12. Orlando Sentinel February 6, 2007 Pearlman, companies face $317 million in claims
  13. [2]
  14. Bryan Gardiner. "Bank Failure in Second Life Leads to Calls for Regulation",, 2007-08-15.