SEC Charges Shakopee Couple in $17.6M Ponzi Scheme
On Tuesday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged a Shakopee couple with fraud for allegedly operating a long-running Ponzi scheme that fleeced approximately 200 investors out of $17.6 million.
The SEC charged Jason Dodd Bullard, 57, his wife Angela Romero-Bullard, 49, and their company, Shakopee-based Bullard Enterprises LLC with running the purported investment vehicle from “at least 2007 to 2021.”
A Ponzi scheme uses money from current investors to pay “returns” to earlier investors. To stay afloat, Ponzi scheme operators need to keep finding more investors to plow money into the bogus operation. Ponzi schemers often pitch high, steady returns with little or no risk for investors. At the same time, they will go to great lengths to avoid investors from trying to cash out their accounts.
The local couple’s pitch to investors was that their investment funds would be trading in foreign currencies. Bullard touted annual returns of 10 percent to 12 percent. According to the SEC charges, the couple received more than $2.5 million from investors from January 1, 2019, through April 30, 2021. They connected with investors largely through word of mouth.
The SEC charges that the couple used only a small percentage of investors’ money to pay previous investors. Instead, the SEC asserts, they used the money “for their own personal uses, including funding other unrelated businesses, making car payments, and paying for personal credit cards, life insurance premiums, and general living expenses.”
One of those unrelated businesses was Shakopee-based Empire Racing Stables. According to the SEC:
“According to its website, Empire Racing Stables has 24 horses in its stables and offers members of the public the opportunity to participate in five different ‘investing levels’.”
On Thursday morning, the Empire Racing Stables website was no longer active.
In October 2020, the Bullards sent a statement to a single investor which listed an account balance of more than $1.4 million. According to the SEC’s allegations: “At that time, Bullard Enterprises’ bank and TD Ameritrade brokerage accounts only had approximately $30,083, collectively.”
In the summer of 2020, the Bullards received $434,000 in federal funds from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. That program was created to help employers retain employees during the pandemic. Instead, they used the PPP money to help keep the Ponzi scheme afloat:
“Defendants used the bulk of the proceeds they received from the Paycheck Protection Program to either temporarily fund investor payments until new investor monies were received, or to fund the Bullards’ horse racing efforts.”
The pyramid scheme is as old as time. But it came to be named for Charles Ponzi, a legendary scam artist a century ago, due to the scale of his enterprise and the attention that it drew. Ponzi raised $15 million in just eight months in 1920 by preaching his plan to make investors rich through international postal reply coupons. It ultimately collapsed and Ponzi was sent to prison.
Read the SEC’s full complaint here.