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SEC Charges Advisor in Self-Directed IRA Scam

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What You Need to Know

  • The alleged fraud targeted hundreds of investors who were at or near retirement age.
  • The SEC says Safeguard Metals sales agents used prepared scripts that were filled with false and misleading statements.
  • Safeguard obtained about $67 million from coin sales to more than 450 investors, and kept some $25.5 million in markups, the complaint states.

The Securities and Exchange Commission said Tuesday that it has charged Safeguard Metals LLC and its owner, Jeffrey Santulan, with engaging in a multimillion-dollar fraud involving hundreds of investors who were at or near retirement age.

According to the SEC’s complaint, from December 2017 through at least July 2021, Safeguard and Santulan acted as investment advisors and persuaded investors to sell their securities, transfer the proceeds into self-directed individual retirement accounts, and invest the proceeds in gold and silver coins by making false and misleading statements about the safety and liquidity of the investors’ securities investments, Safeguard’s business and its compensation.

The complaint states that Safeguard and Santulan “targeted investors who were at or near retirement age through Safeguard’s website, through online advertisements on sites like Facebook and Google, and through direct calls.”

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission and 27 state securities regulators announced a parallel joint civil enforcement action against Safeguard in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California the same day.

Santulan had authority over Safeguard’s website, which during much of the relevant time period falsely claimed that the company had $11 billion in assets under management and an office in London, the order states.

“He also had authority over Safeguard’s LinkedIn page, which was connected to fake profiles of prominent individuals in the securities industry showing that they were associated with Safeguard,” according to the complaint.

Santulan allegedly operated the company from a small leased space in an office building in Woodland Hills, California, using sales agents, the SEC said.

The complaint further alleges that Safeguard’s sales agents used prepared scripts, some written by Santulan, that were filled with false and misleading statements.

For example, “Safeguard’s sales agents stated that a ‘Money Market Reform Law’ allowed banks and brokerage firms to freeze retirement accounts in the event of a market downturn; that top financial experts in the United States were saying that another recession was coming very soon; and that when that happened, the investors’ accounts would be frozen and they would not be able to get any money out of their 401(k) plans or Individual Retirement Accounts,” the complaint states.

These statements were misleading because, among other things, the complaint continues, “the law that Safeguard referenced applied only to money market funds in rare circumstances and could not result in an individual’s entire account being frozen.”

“The federal securities laws prohibit deceptive conduct and material misrepresentations in the purchase or sale of securities,” said Kathryn Pyszka, an associate director in the SEC’s Chicago Regional Office. “We will take action when, as alleged, parties fraudulently induce investors to sell their securities through lies and deception.”

Safeguard and Santulan also allegedly misled investors about Safeguard’s commissions and markups on the coins, charging average markups of approximately 64% on its sales of silver coins, instead of the 4% to 33% markups that they disclosed to investors.

According to the complaint, Safeguard obtained approximately $67 million from the sale of coins to more than 450 mostly older retail investors, and kept approximately $25.5 million in markups.

The SEC’s complaint, which was filed in federal district court in Los Angeles, charges Safeguard and Santulan with violating the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws. The SEC is seeking permanent injunctions; disgorgement of allegedly ill-gotten gains, plus interest; and civil penalties.