A Santa Barbara man has been arrested and charged with multiple counts of wire fraud and money laundering in what federal prosecutors allege was an elaborate Ponzi scheme that fleeced victims of about $12 million.
A federal grand jury on Tuesday issued the 11-count indictment that accuses Darrell Arnold Aviss, 63, of stealing money from victims who were promised it would be used to purchase annuities, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
According to the federal indictment, Aviss allegedly ran the scheme from at least 2012 through the summer of 2020, soliciting money from people who wanted to buy annuities from insurance companies based in Switzerland.
Aviss allegedly claimed the annuities he offered were safe and secure, and in some instances told victims they would pay interest rates ranging from 5% to 7%.
However, authorities claim Aviss did not use the victims’ money to purchase annuities.
He allegedly arranged for the victims to receive statements showing the purported values of the annuities, which the false documents indicated were increasing over time, the indictment states.
Most of the victims were older than 60.
They gave Aviss more than $12 million, with most of that money coming from just one victim, according to court documents.
Some money was paid back to victims to keep the scheme running.
Rather than purchase annuities, Aviss allegedly used the victims’ money to support his “lavish lifestyle,” including mortgage payments, luxury car leases, expensive watches, trips to Monaco, more than $100,000 in purchases at a Santa Barbara nightclub, and 20 tickets to a U2 concert and after-party.
Aviss, who was being held without bail, is scheduled to be arraigned on July 9.
The indictment charges Aviss with five counts of wire fraud, each of which carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison; one count of concealment money laundering, which has a maximum sentence of 20 years; and five counts of laundering criminal proceeds in excess of $10,000, each of which carries a potential sentence of 10 years.
If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, contact the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 833.372-8311.
— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.