Kathy Bazoian Phelps
Senior Counsel in Ponzi Scheme Litigation
and Bankruptcy Matters

Kathy is a senior business trial attorney with more than 30 years experience prosecuting and defending claims for high net worth clients involved in Ponzi scheme matters and in bankruptcy proceedings. Kathy’s practice includes recovering assets for clients in complex fraud cases under standard fee and alternative fee arrangements. She also handles SEC and CFTC whistleblower claims. Kathy also serves as a mediator in bankruptcy matters, in complex business disputes, and in matters requiring detailed knowledge about fraud or Ponzi schemes.

Kathy’s Clients in Ponzi Scheme Cases and Bankruptcy Matters
Equity Receivers
Bankruptcy Trustees
High Net Worth Investors
Debtors in Bankruptcy
Secured and Unsecured Creditors

Friday, May 31, 2024

May 2024 Ponzi Scheme Roundup

Below is a summary of Ponzi scheme activity reported for May 2024. There were at least 11 new Ponzi schemes revealed this month and 4 guilty pleas. Ponzi schemers received more than 70 years of prison sentences. The average age of the fraudsters was about 48 years old. Please feel free to post comments about these or other Ponzi schemes that I may have missed. 

Jarod Cervoni, 45, was charged in connection with a Ponzi-like scheme that defrauded investors out of $400,000. He ran the scheme through Square 1 Wellness and Square 1 Performance.

Derek Vincent Chu, 41, of California, was indicted in connection with a $39 million alleged Ponzi scheme. The scheme involved over 100 people and involved investments in the supposed purchase and resale of NBA tickets.

Idin Dalpour, 39, of New York, was indicted on charges that he was running a Ponzi scheme that defrauded victims out of at least $43 million. Dalpour represented he was investing in a Las Vegas hospitality business and a crypto trading operation. The scheme was run from 2020 through 2024. Dalpour did not invest the money but instead used the money for gambling and tuition for his children, among other things. 

Schlomo Erez, 56, of Israel, pleaded guilty to conspiring with Eliyahu “Eli” Weinstein to run a Ponzi scheme involving $35 million. Four of Erez’s conspirators – Christopher Anderson, 47, Richard Curry, 36, Alaa Hattab, 35, and Joel Wittels, 57 – previously pleaded guilty to the scheme. Weinstein had previously run a scheme through Optimus Investments Inc. and Tryon Management Group LLC that defrauded victims out of $230 million. Weinstein had been sentenced to 24 years in prison but his sentenced was commuted by then President Trump after he had served less than 8 years.

Michael French, 40, of South Carolina, was ordered to pay the SEC nearly $25 million.  French sold high-yield promissory notes under his TikTok handle @moneyjust flows. He promised returns of 12% through low-risk investments.

Rand Heckler, 67, of New York, was sentenced to 2½ years in prison and ordered to pay about $919,999 in connection with a Ponzi scheme that defrauded victims out of $1 million. Heckler solicited funds into a hedge fund of stocks and securities.

David Kagel, 85, of California, pleaded guilty to promoting a $9.5 million Ponzi scheme, Kagel, a disbarred California attorney, operated a cryptocurrency Ponzi scheme that falsely guaranteed profits and promised to use artificial intelligence trading bots to generate returns. He also misrepresented that he held $11 million worth of Bitcoin in escrow to guarantee the investments against losses. David Gilbert Saffron, 51, of Australia, and Vincent Anthony Mazzotta Jr., 52, of Los Angeles, were charged in December 2023 for their roles in the same cryptocurrency Ponzi scheme and have both pleaded not guilty.

Joshua Link and Jed Wood, of Texas, were sued by the CFTC in connection with the Agridime LLC cattle scheme that solicited more than $161 million from investors. They represented that investor dollars would be used to buy and sell cattle and promised annual returns of 15% to 20%. Investors thought they were buying a head of live cattle, typically for $2,000, and Agridime was supposed to take care of the actual feeding and caring for the cattle via farmers with whom Agridime partnered, until the cattle was ready to be processed and the beef sold.

John Masanotti, Jr., 69, was charged in connection with an alleged Ponzi scheme run through Middlesex Mortgage Group LLC based in Connecticut. The scheme defrauded at least 10 investors out of more than $10 million. Masanotti promised returns of between 10% and 20% annually from investments in foreign currency in the fund known as the Middlesex Fund or the MMG Fund.

Joseph Meli, 42, and Steven Simmons, 48, were charged in connection with a ticket reselling business run through Sideris Capital Partners. They raised $81 million from 125 investors, and $48 million was repaid to earlier investors.

Frank Lynold Mercado, of North Carolina, and his advisory firm, Tiger Wolf Capital, LLC, were charged by the SEC on allegations that they were running a Ponzi scheme that defrauded over 100 investors. They raised more than $1.4 million claiming they were receiving a “50+” return on investments in securities.

Matthew Motil, 42, was charged by the SEC on allegations that he was running an $11 million Ponzi scheme. Motil hosted a podcast called The Cash Flow King and allegedly defrauded 50 investors. Motil also reached a plea deal in connection with a parallel criminal investigation. Matthew Harriton, 52, was also charged by the SEC in connection with the scheme.

Steven Pasko and Jo Wander were sued on allegations that they were running a $600 million fraudulent scheme through 777 Partners. The lawsuit alleges that 777 was double-pledging assets.

Surage Roshan Perera of New York was sentenced to 6½ years in prison and ordered to pay $6.3 million in restitution in connection with a scheme run through Janues Capital Inc. Perera was an investment advisor and represented that he could purchase stock in companies that traded on the NADSAQ and NYSE at discounted prices. He sent fraudulent confirmation notices to his victims. About 15 victims were harmed in the scheme. Perera claimed to exercise a trading strategy called “options straddles” that would not only prevent any trading losses but also, for some of the supposed investments, guaranteed returns on the investment of at least 9% and up to as much as 50%.

Della Fay Perez, of Texas, was arrested on charges that she misappropriated distributions checks from the Robert Allen Stanford receivership. Perez was a neutral third-party responsible for distributing $5.9 billion in restitution to Stanford victims. Approximately 21 checks payable to victims totaling about $460,000 that were deposited into Perez’s IOLTA account never made it to the victims.

Volodimyr Pigida, 49, of Florida, was sentenced to 14 years and 4 months in prison in connection with am $11 million Ponzi scheme. Pigida and his wife, Marina Bondarenko, operated a ‘work-at-home’ email scheme named Trend Sound Promoter. They sold ad-promoting packages and investors were to be paid for email marketing. Pigida failed to show up for his sentencing but was later found hiding behind a false wall in a relative’s house.

Sergei Potapenko and Ivan Turõgin, both 39, of Estonia, made their initial appearance in their criminal case in Washington following the Estonian government authorizing extradition. Authorities allege that they defrauded hundreds of thousands of victims to purchase contracts in a cryptocurrency mining service called HashFlare. The scheme brought in more than $575 million. The defendants offered contracts under which customers could pay a fee to rent a percentage of HashFlare’s mining operations in exchange for the virtual currency produced by their portion of the operation.

David Gilbert Saffron and his company, Circle Society, were charged by the CFTC in connection with an alleged scheme involving binary options on foreign exchange and cryptocurrency. The scheme allegedly defrauded investors out of $11 million. Saffron guaranteed returns of up to 300%.  

John Sfraga pleaded guilty to charges in connection with a fictitious cryptocurrency scheme. Sfraga promised returns as high as 60% in three months. Investors lost more than $1.3 million. 

John Michael Thibodeaux, 44, of Louisiana, was arrested on allegations that he was running a Ponzi scheme rather than investing the investors’ money as promised. He paid some victims returns of 10% to 14% per month for about 5 months. 



Jack Alexander Endersby, 24, was charged on allegations that he was running a Ponzi scheme that defrauded victims out of $2 million. 

John Louis Anthony Bigatton pleaded guilty to his role in the Bitconnect Ponzi scheme. Bigatton promoted the scheme on social media, seminars and in face-to-face meetings with investors.

Daniel Ali, the former director of DanFX Trade Pty Ltd., was sentenced to 7 years and 3 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to running a fraudulent foreign exchange trading business. 


David Villanueva aka David Carter, 62, was arrested on allegations that he defrauded investors out of more than $1.4 million. The scheme was run through The Factoring Collective. He was accused of running a fake law firm in one city and pretended to be a psychologist in another.

Aiden Pleterski, 25, and Colin Murphy, 27, were arrested on charges relating to an alleged $30 million cryptocurrency and foreign exchange investment scheme. They ran the scheme through AP Private Equity Limited, and Pleterski only invested 2% and spent at least $16 million buying 10 luxury cars, travel and renting a lakefront mansion. 


Jonathan Denton, 64, a lawyer formerly with Locke Lord, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Investors collectively lost around £30 million in the scheme that was run with Simon Oakley.


Mohan Kumar Parida, the managing director of Way to Add India Pvt Ltd, was arrested on charges relating toa  scheme in which he promised investors 26% interest per month for 3 months. Investors were also promised a bonus of 2% for enrolling new members. The scheme defrauded 2,000 investors. 

South Africa

Johann Steynberg passed away in Brazil while under house arrest. Steynberg ran a bitcoin scheme through Mirror Trading International.

Craig Warriner, 60, was sentenced to 25 years in prison and was banned from BHI Trust for 30 years on account of his running a Ponzi scheme in which about 2,000 investors lost over R1.2 billion.


Lilia Nuriyeva was sentenced to 3 years in prison in connection with the Finiko Ponzi scheme. The company’s co-founder, Kirill Doronin, is still awaiting trial. The scheme caused an estimated $1.1 billion in losses. The scheme promised returns from cryptocurrency and stock trading. 


Shamiso Fred was arrested on allegations that he was running a Ponzi scheme through African Business Women Association. Investors were required to pay an agreed amount to fund business projects running for up to 48 months, but ABWA failed to pay out monthly profits.