Private Shares Fraud – Just the Beginning?

Private shares fraud? We’ve been talking about it internally for months. Unregulated space where investors buy and sell private shares often of pre-IPO companies such as Groupon and Facebook. We think the potential fraud claims will occur in the pricing of the private shares. The seller, perhaps a company insider, plays around with valuations. But the Dealbook story posted below of John Mattera is an old school fraud. He allegedly stole people’s money by promising to sell them his personal private shares in high flying pre-IPO companies. Here’s the problem for his “investors”: may be no one to collect from. Mattera likely going to jail. His fund is finished. Good luck trying to sue and collect from the unregistered Long Island firm and/or its principals and the escrow service. What a shame. Private share investors need to be careful out there. Even in the more legitimate secondary private share markets run by larger firms. Due diligence is king.

DealBook – A Financial News Service of The New York Times November 17, 2011, 4:32 pm Manager Who Claimed to Own Facebook Shares Charged With Fraud By KEVIN ROOSE John A. Mattera was arrested in Florida on Thursday.

It may be the new, new thing in fraud.

John A. Mattera, 50, a Florida-based investment manager, was arrested Thursday on charges of running an $11 million, two-year fraud that falsely promised investors access to coveted shares of Groupon, Facebook and other private companies.

Mr. Mattera, the head of the Praetorian Global Fund, claimed to own more than a million shares each of Facebook and Groupon, according to a complaint filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan. He represented to investors that those holdings, bought on the private markets, would surge in value after the companies went public, the complaint said. Prosecutors allege the fund didn’t have such investments.

Instead, Mr. Mattera used millions of dollars of investor money to finance his lavish lifestyle, the complaint alleges. Among Mr. Mattera’s expenses: more than $245,000 for home furnishings and interior design services, more than $11,000 for tailored clothing and more than $17,000 for “boat-related expenses.”

Prosecutors have charged Mr. Mattera with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud, one count of securities fraud, one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. The Securities and Exchange Commission is also taking civil action against Mr. Mattera.

“As alleged, John Mattera duped investors into believing they had bought rights to shares of coveted stock in Facebook and other highly visible and attractive companies which had not yet gone public,” Preet S. Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement. “With today’s charges, his charade is exposed and he will be held to account for his alleged crimes.”

Carl F. Schoeppl, Mr. Mattera’s lawyer in the criminal case, declined to comment.

The charges against Mr. Mattera come as investors clamor for shares of newly public Internet companies, a frenzy that echoes the early days of the last dot-com boom in the 1990s. Getting into a company early can be lucrative. Groupon, the daily deals site, jumped more than 30 percent on its first day of trading.

To attract clients, Mr. Mattera allegedly enlisted the help of Joseph Almazon, an unregistered broker with Spartan Capital Partners on Long Island, who solicited investments for Mr. Mattera’s Praetorian funds using LinkedIn advertisements that offered customers “the opportunity to buy pre-I.P.O. shares” in Facebook, Groupon, Twitter, Zynga and other companies. Mr. Almazon promised that “unlike most of the other investment banking firms, we let you sell your shares right at the open” – referring to the first day the company goes public, according to the civil action.

After investors signed up, their money was transferred to an escrow service headed by John R. Arnold. Mr. Arnold, in turn, passed the money along to himself and to Mr. Mattera, as well as to accounts registered to Mr. Mattera’s mother and wife, the complaint said.

Mr. Mattera is no stranger to the law. In 2009, he was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of evading registration requirements by backdating certain promissory notes. He paid a penalty of $140,000 and was barred from trading penny stocks, shares of smaller public companies that are worth less than $1 apiece.

Three of the current criminal charges against Mr. Mattera, who was arrested at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Thursday, carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison each. He faces a maximum sentence of five years on the conspiracy charge.

Mr. Mattera and his associates “exploited investors’ desire to get an inside track on a wave of hyped future I.P.O.s,” George S. Canellos, the S.E.C.’s New York regional director, said in a statement. “Even as investors believed their funds were sitting safely in escrow accounts, Mattera plundered those accounts to bankroll a lifestyle of private jets, luxury cars, and fine art.”

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