State Attorney General’s Office offices and Secret Service agents spoke with investors at a meeting hosted by Rep. Joshua Putnam and Sen. Kevin Bryant Monday night at the Easley campus of Tri-County Technical College.
As the Powdersville Post previously reported, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson claims that Ron Wilson has defrauded his silver customers.
Alan Wilson filed his complaint earlier this month.
The complaint states that Ronnie Gene Wilson and his business Atlantic Bullion & Coin, Inc “have engaged in acts, practices and transactions which violate the South Carolina Uniform Securities Act of 2005.”
The complaint alleges that Wilson promised to invest customers’ money in silver purchases, but never made the purchases.
According to the complaint, Wilson testified last month to securities investigators that he had at least $16.9 million of his customers’ silver in a Delaware depository, “probably close” to 500,000 – 600,000 ounces of silver.
But according to the complaint, “no account, contractor or stored silver was located for AB & C and or Wilson,” at the Delaware depository.
The complaint alleges that the business had investors in 25 states.
Criminal charges have not been filed against Wilson, and he has not been arrested.
Putnam said the meeting’s purpose was to bring investors face-to-face with the agencies working the case.
“I know we’re all here tonight seeking as much information as we can,” said Assistant Attorney Adam Woodson with the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office. “Any time you’ve got investigations ongoing, any time you have legal actions ongoing, there’s going to be certain things that can be discussed and there’s going to be certain things that just can’t be discussed.”
Senior Assistant Attorney General Tracy Meyers said her civil case has been filed, giving her more freedom to discuss the issue, whereas criminal agencies have not filed actions against Wilson as yet.
“Every person working on this case is just heartsick that you good, decent people have lost the money,” Meyers said. “As it developed, my staff hoped and prayed that Atlantic Bullion would be found to be a legitimate company. Unfortunately, as you can tell from our complaint, this was not the case.”
She urged investors not to blame themselves for trusting in Wilson and his business.
Affected investors include “doctors, lawyers, small business people, financial planners — people from all walks of life,” Meyers said.
“People who run successful Ponzi schemes are good at what they do,” she said. “Often their investment operation is their full-time job, and they work very hard at it.”
Hallmarks of Ponzi schemes include unusually large returns, exotic or unusually products that people are not very familiar with — “silver, gold, foreign currency,” Meyers said.
“The promoter looks very successful,” she said. “He flaunts his wealth. He makes it look real, and advertises the business as real even when it really isn’t.
“Soon after receipt, an investors’ usually money leaves the account it was placed in, to be spent either for the personal gain of the promoter, for referral fees, or to pay back the other investors,” Meyers said.
The 1996 cease and desist order filed against Wilson and his business came after the AG’s office received an anonymous tip, Meyers said.
At that time, investigators met with Wilson about his business.
“He made it clear at that time that what he did was sell these items,” Meyers said. “Strict retail sale of these items, if it doesn’t involve a security or investment, strict retail sale is not within the Securities Division’s jurisdiction.”
The office did not receive further complaints, Meyers said. Wilson agreed to sign a consent that he would not sell securities without registration, though Wilson denied that he and his business had sold securities at all.
Meyers said the 1996 cease and desist order had not been well publicized, but said that at that time the Internet was not a good way
“There was not a good way to do mass publicity of orders in a way that the information would stay in the public domain for any period of time,” Meyers said. “All of the Securities Division cease and desist orders now are posted online … and they can be accessed through the SC Attorney General’s web site and through a Google search.”
More defendants could be added to the complaint, Meyers said.
“Our case is still ongoing,” Meyers said. “We’ve identified people that have profited through sales commissions. And those people either need to return the money for the benefit of the investors or they need to be added to the complaint, or both things to need to happen to them.
“We also want to talk to anyone who hosted a silver party or a seminar or anything else with Mr. Wilson,” Meyers said.
Anyone who has should contact the Attorney General’s Office or the Greenville Secret Service Office at 864-233-1490.
“If you’ve been a sales agent or you’ve been a host, I think it would be a good idea to contact us before we contact you,” Meyers said.
A temporary restraining order has been placed on Atlantic Bullion & Coin’s account, and investigators have asked for a receiver to been appointed over the account.
“We’ve been told that Mr. Wilson will agree to an injunction prohibiting the bank account from being released until a receiver has been appointed, and that also he would consent to a receiver,” Meyers said. “We’re working to get that done as quickly as possible.”
Agent Thomas Griffin with the United States Secret Service also spoke to investors.
Last week, federal search warrants were executed on two Easley properties related to the investigation.
“The search warrants were significant in that they gave us a much better idea of what we were dealing with and potentially what the South Carolina Attorney’s General’s Office were dealing with,” Griffin said.
Secret Service agents from Columbia, Charleston and Washington, D.C. have been brought it to assist the Greenville office with the “magnitude of victims and possible victims,” Griffin said.
“It’s important for us to talk to each and everyone of you,” Griffin told investors.
“Every person we’ve talked to has provided a piece of information that we were unable aware or didn’t completely understand … and that’s important.”
The financial figures involved in the investigation “are pretty staggering, especially in a small community like this,” Griffin said.
“My heart goes out to every one of you,” he said. “Ultimately what we’re looking for at the end of the day is justice.”
Agents took questions from investors during the meeting.
One question clearly weighed heavily on investors: Why have no criminal charges been brought against Ron Wilson yet?
The investigators stressed that criminal cases take much longer to bring together than civil cases, and that they are using extreme caution in the investigation.
Griffin said he is “very confident” Wilson will not attempt to leave the country.
He said the investigation is moving “at a very rapid pace.”
“You’ve got to be patient,” he said. “We’re going to leave no stone unturned.”
The Attorney General’s Office has not taken any action against Live Oak Farms, a business with connections to Ron Wilson.
Putnam and Bryant are working on legislation aimed at providing potential investors with more information about who they’re investing their money with.
The bill would require cease and desist orders to be placed at entrances to a business so
that customers can see them, Putnam said.
Such orders would also have to be published in local news media, he said.
The bill would also see such orders given to other pertinent government agencies, such as the Secretary of State’s office.
Investors said they didn’t understand why Atlantic Bullion and Coin still maintained a AAA rating, even after the 1996 cease and desist order.
Sen. Larry Martin said the state is better equipped to handle financial and securities fraud cases than it was following the collapse of HomeGold, Inc. and Carolina Investors.
In that case, more than 8,000 investors lost $278 million.
“None of those fields have to be plowed again,” Martin said.
During the days of the Carolina Investors investigation, some people said that justice would not be served, and that the perpetrators “wouldn’t serve a day in jail.”
Those people were wrong, Martin said.
“Folks were prosecuted, folks were held accountable for what they did, and we’ll do it again,” Martin said. “If crimes have been committed, justice will be done.”