The Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday filed charges against a man accused of luring investors into a fraudulent investment scheme by promising big returns under a provision of the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act.
Daniel Peterson and his company, USA Real Estate Fund 1 of Spokane Valley, Washington, allegedly told investors that the JOBS Act would let him raise billions of dollars because of a measure that lifts restrictions on general advertising, the SEC said.
But Peterson, 63, did not really have a guaranteed investment product or any affiliation with a financial firm, the SEC said.
He allegedly took investors’ money and then used it to pay for rent, food, entertainment, vacations, a rented Mercedes Benz SUV and expenses at a Las Vegas casino, among other things.
Reached by telephone, Peterson adamantly denied the charges.
He said he properly filed a “Reg D” form with the SEC in 2010, which allows for the offering of unregistered securities, and that he had not solicited any investors.
“I sold personally, founders shares in USA Real Estate Fund 1 Inc. to friends and family to provide operating capital for a company,” he said.
He said the SEC has copies of letters from “every single person who bought a share of stock saying that they understood it was operational capital, and that in fact my wife and I were going to take some of the money to recover some of the massive amount of money we put out.”
The JOBS Act was signed into law last year as part of an effort to help spur small business growth by easing securities regulations and making it easier for companies to go public.
The SEC’s case against Peterson comes as the agency is still struggling to complete the new JOBS Act rules that Peterson said would help him raise money – the lifting of the ban on general solicitation for private offerings.
Congress called for the ban to be lifted by July 2012, but SEC commissioners are divided over how to craft the rules to lift the ban.
SEC Commissioner Luis Aguilar, a Democrat, has said he fears the current draft rule will put investors at risk and said it should be completely re-written. The SEC’s two Republicans, meanwhile, have urged the SEC to hurry and finalize the rules, saying it will help small businesses.
Investor advocates have generally pushed back against lifting the ban, saying they fear it will open the floodgates for fraud.
Although the SEC’s case does not allege that Peterson violated any JOBS Act-related provisions, it could still provide some fuel to the ongoing debate over the law.
The SEC said that Peterson raised at least $400,000 from about 21 investors between November 2010 and June 2012, and also exchanged USA Fund common stock with at least 26 other investors.
The agency said he “repeatedly referred to the JOBS Act as providing legitimacy and urgency for his offerings” in newsletters and e-mails.
He also allegedly tried to grab investors’ attention by promising to invest the proceeds of his offering in all-American businesses.
Peterson, for his part, blamed the SEC’s delay in lifting the ban for harming his current business.
He said he has been lobbying federal lawmakers and SEC commissioners to hurry up and act.
“The SEC continues to drag its feet,” he said.