Posted on: August 25, 2022, 03:31h.
Last updated on: August 25, 2022, 03:34h.
“Social Voucher” was a mobile gaming app that never existed, despite scammers raising $21 million for its development. Now, five South Florida residents have pleaded guilty to ripping off investors for their own personal gain.
Paul Geraci, Ted Romeo, Michael Assenza, Paul Vandivier, and Cindy Vandivier have admitted charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy.
A sixth member of the group, and the alleged ringleader, 79-year-old Gerald Parker of Juno Beach, is set to be tried in front of a jury in September.
The defendants pitched investors with an app that would allow users to accrue credits for playing skill games. The credits would give them discounts on online shopping. They claimed Social Voucher would quickly be worth $1 billion, according to federal prosecutors.
$2M in Casinos
From 2013 to 2018, the group convinced almost 400 people from across the US to part with an average of around $52,500 each. But the app was never built, and the company generated not one penny in revenue.
Instead, up to 50% of the funds raised lined the defendants’ pockets, according to court filings.
Prosecutors allege that Parker has a gambling problem and used around $2 million of investors’ funds to pay off expenses at two Seminole casinos. He took out another $2 million through cash withdrawals and used about $590,000 for personal expenses.
Other funds were plowed into operating a boiler room, where defendants used high-pressure, cold-call sales tactics to find new investors and would earn big commissions if they were successful.
The defendants bragged to their victims that they were successful, high-flying businessman. In reality, they were longtime scammers with previous convictions for securities fraud, according to prosecutors.
Eventually, the FBI caught wind of the scheme, and Geraci was recorded pitching Social Voucher stock to an undercover agent, who “invested” $50,000 in the non-existent app. The FBI raided the Social Voucher office in June 2018. All six were charged in in April 2021.
“It was a purpose of the conspiracy for the defendants and their co-conspirators to unlawfully enrich themselves by soliciting millions of dollars in investor funds under false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, promises, and by making material omissions; misappropriating and converting investor funds for the personal benefit of the defendants, without the knowledge or authorization of the investors; and concealing the commission of the offense,” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors want the court to force the defendants to pay restitution to their victims and have applied to seize property the gang purchased with investors’ funds.
Each defendant faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.