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Regulation and Compliance > Litigation

Ex-RIA Comptroller in Father-Daughter Ponzi Scheme Gets 6-Year Sentence

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What You Need to Know

  • Vania May Bell was convicted of running a Ponzi scheme with her father, the RIA's president.
  • Bell and her father bilked $11.4 million from clients over two decades, the Justice Department said.
  • The father was also a broker for Securities America, which agreed to pay $1.75 million for failing to protect clients from losing about $8 million in the scheme.

The former comptroller of a now-defunct New York RIA has been sentenced to 6.7 years in prison for her role in a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme that was run by her and her father, who served as the firm’s president and also a Securities America broker, according to court documents and an announcement by Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Vania May Bell, 57, of Montvale, New Jersey, was sentenced to 80 months in prison for participating in a conspiracy with her father, Hector May, the former president of Executive Compensation Planners, to defraud certain investment advisory clients out of more than $11 million.

Bell was also ordered to serve three years of supervised release, pay $8 million in restitution, and forfeit $589,942.

The sentencing was handed down by Judge Nelson S. Roman of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In a Dec. 13, 2018 complaint, the Securities and Exchange Commission had alleged May and his daughter conducted a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme that defrauded local community members as well as members of their family and close friends.

May, who pleaded guilty in a separate case by the Justice Department in December 2018 to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and investment advisor fraud, was sentenced on July 31, 2019, to 13 years in prison by Judge Vincent Briccetti.

May was also ordered to serve three years of supervised release, pay $8 million in restitution and forfeit $11.5 million.

He had served as a broker with Securities America from 1994-2018, which included the period in which the Ponzi scheme was run, according to court documents and his report on the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s BrokerCheck website.

Securities America Fined

In July 2021, Securities America agreed to pay $1.75 million for failing to protect clients from losing about $8 million in the Ponzi scheme, according to the SEC.

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, the Advisor Group subsidiary also agreed to cease and desist from further securities violations and retain an independent compliance consultant.

Advisor Group declined to comment Wednesday about Bell’s sentencing.

According to an SEC order, from November 2014 to March 2018, Securities America adopted the same policies as Securities America Inc. for safeguarding client assets from misappropriation.

SAI is the introducing broker for Securities America advisory clients and both have been owned by Advisor Group since the merger of Advisor Group and Ladenburg Thalmann was finalized in February 2020.

‘Pilfered’ Retirement Savings

“Over two decades, Bell and her father Hector May ruthlessly orchestrated a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme,” Williams said in a statement on Tuesday.

“They pilfered the retirement savings of over 15 victims, including vulnerable aging couples, close friends, relatives, and an employment pension plan of a construction company,” Williams said, adding: “Bell now joins her father in prison to be held accountable for this devastating crime.”

May advised the victims, among other things, that they should use money from their accounts to have Executive Compensation Planners instead of Securities America (described in court documents as “Broker Dealer-1”) purchase bonds on their behalf.

With Bell’s help, May guided the victims, first, to withdraw their money from their Securities America accounts, and second, to send that money to the ECP custodial account by wire transfer or check.

At times, when ECP was running out of cash and desperately needed to make supposed bond interest payments to avoid exposing the scheme, Bell reached out to the victims directly, according to the Justice Department.

After the victims sent their money to the ECP custodial account, May and Bell did not use the money to buy bonds. Instead, they transferred the money to ECP’s “operating” account and spent it on business expenses, personal expenses, and to make payments to certain victims to help perpetuate the scheme and conceal the fraud, according to the Justice Department.

In that way, from the late 1990s through March 9, 2018, Bell and May induced the victims to forward them more than $11.4 million, the Justice Department said.

May provided Bell with bond names and false interest earnings, and Bell created ECP computerized account statements and had them distributed to the victims.

As part of the scheme, May even drove to the home of a stroke victim he and Bell had been defrauding of millions of dollars to retrieve the legitimate statements being sent by Securities America and later replaced them with Bell’s fake consolidated statements purporting to show the victim’s investments had been growing, according to the Justice Department.

Bell used her role as the RIA’s comptroller and chief compliance officer to help conceal the fraud from Securities America, according to the Justice Department.

(Image: Shutterstock)


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