Fake Astrology-Based Hedge Fund Threatens To Ruin Things For All The Legit Astrology-Based Hedge Funds Out There

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One piece of financial advice that is well known among the cognoscenti but less obvious to some folks in Florida is that you can do 90% of your investment due diligence just by looking at a fund's name. The tricky thing is that the scale sort of wraps around, like so:
(1) Name that specifies how safe it is ("Global Securities Safety-First Principal Protection Ultra-Conservative Fund") = probably a Ponzi scheme;
(2) Mythological figure, geological feature, wealthy neighborhood, etc. = you're good, past performance should predict future returns;
(3) Word from Tolkien = dealer's choice;
(4) Name that specifies how unsafe it is ("Death Star," "Terrible Ideas Investment Management") = probably not a great sign but maybe?

"White Elephant Trading Co. LLC Conservative Fixed Income Fund" is the first case I have ever seen of flunking at both ends - it is both "an object, scheme, business venture, facility, etc., considered to be without use or value"and a Conservative Fixed Income Fund. It was also the dream of one Gurudeo "Buddy" Persaud, who promised* investors high and stable returns with one teeny little catch:

32. However, Persaud did not tell investors that in making at least 90% of his trading decisions, he relied on directional market forecasts based on lunar cycles and gravitational pull provided by an internet service.

33. The primary principle underlying Persaud's trading strategy was that the gravitational pull between the moon and Earth affects mass human behavior, which in turn affects the stock markets. For example, Persaud believed that when the moon is positioned so there is a greater gravitational pull on humans, they feel down and are therefore more inclined to sell securities in the markets.

34. Persaud failed to disclose he would trade investors' contributions based on lunar cycles and gravitational pull between Earth and the moon.

I don't know. I didn't take CFA Level 2 so my gravity-based market-prediction skills aren't fully honed but this seems reasonable to me? Lots of real hedge funds trade on signals and correlations that sound about as silly as that. And the SEC doesn't come after them to make them disclose the details of their strategies to investors. WHERE IS THE PROBLEM?

Sadly, the problem seems to have come when Persaud went beyond this foolproof investment strategy into Ponzi territory, spending* about half of his $1mm fund on his personal expenses and much of the rest on paying returns to early investors out of later investors' contributions. (Also the astrology thing seems not to have worked which whatever lots of other strategies didn't work either.) Anyway the SEC caught up with him today and brought to bear both a lawsuit and withering sarcasm:

“Persaud preyed on people who trusted him by promising high and steady returns while hiding his unconventional trading strategy,” said Eric I. Bustillo, Director of the SEC’s Miami Regional Office. “When Persaud blatantly lied to investors and hid their losses through a Ponzi scheme, he should have known that an SEC enforcement action was in the stars.”

SEC Charges Florida Broker in Astrology-Based Ponzi Scheme [SEC, also complaint]
Earlier: Fake Stock-Picking Robot Threatens To Ruin Things For All The Legit Stock-Picking Robots Out There

* Oh, "allegedly." Allegedly.**

** Also that footnote was used twice.


Fake Stock-Picking Robot Threatens To Ruin Things For All The Legit Stock-Picking Robots Out There

Imagine, if you will, that you are a stock-picking robot. You've put in the time, come up through the trenches, and have finally started to garner the respect you deserve. Investors are flocking to your fund, begging to put in as much money as you'll let them. People were wary at first, not sure what to make of your style, but you've finally proved to them you're the real deal. Life is good. Then some two-bit hacks come along and threaten to destroy everything you've worked for, sullying the reputation of legitimate stock-picking robots with the one they used as a front for their scam. Starting at the age of sixteen, the defendants, twin brothers Alexander John Hunter and Thomas Edward Hunter, developed an elaborate scheme to manipulate the prices of penny stocks at the expense of unwitting investors. The Hunters concocted and hyped the tale of a “stock picking robot” named "Marl" that they claimed could identify penny stocks that were poised to appreciate sharply in value. In their email newsletters and websites (doublingstocks.com and daytradingrobot.com), the defendants represented that the “robot” was a highly sophisticated computer trading program and the product of extensive research and development. The defendants’ story was persuasive. Approximately 75,000 investors, the vast majority of whom lived in the United States, paid at least $1,200,000 for annual subscriptions to the Doubling Stocks newsletter and copies of the robot software. In reality, the “stock picking robot” was a work of fiction. Did "Marl" come up with brilliant investment ideas based on painstaking research, meetings with management, and complex analysis? No, in fact he did not. Defendant Alexander John Hunter, in seeking bids to create the software in 2007, described the requirements for the software to freelance software coders as follows: Need a small software program which will appear to the user that once running it is analyzing thousands of penny stocks. Every so often, the software will find a stock, and a message will appear from the system tray, and on the program showing the ticker symbol. IMPORTANT: This software does not actually find stocks at all. It should connect to my database and simply request any new stocks I have put in. Basically this is almost a “fake” piece of software and needs to simply appear advanced to the user... To say nothing of the fact that his purported credentials were bold-faced lies. On their doublingstocks.com website, the defendants referred to the stock-picking robot as “Marl”, combining the first names of its purported inventors, Michael Cohen (“Cohen”) and Carl Williamson. On doublingstocks.com, the defendants claimed that Michael Cohen “developed the famous ‘Global Alpha’ computer stock trading model” as a contractor for the Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (“Goldman Sachs”). The Global Alpha program, the defendants claimed, in “most years is responsible for $4,000,000,000+ Annual Trading Profit.” The defendants’ representations about “Michael Cohen” were false. No such employee or contractor worked in that capacity at Goldman Sachs. SEC Charges British Twin Brothers Touting "Stock Picking Robot" in Internet Pump-and-Dump Scheme [SEC] SEC v. Hunter Brothers [SEC]