Former Comptroller And Compliance Specialist At Investment Adviser Firm, Vania May Bell Pleads Guilty To Conspiring To Defraud Clients
(STL.News) Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that VANIA MAY BELL, the former comptroller and chief compliance officer of Executive Compensation Planners, Inc. (“ECP”), a registered investment adviser and financial planning firm located in New City, New York, pled guilty to participating in a conspiracy with her father, Hector May, the former president of ECP, to defraud certain investment advisory clients (the “Victims”) out of more than $11 million. BELL pled guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith C. McCarthy.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As Vania May Bell admitted, for years, she and her father, Hector May, violated the trust of ECP’s clients by taking their money intended for investments and instead spending it for personal and business expenses as part of an illegal Ponzi scheme. In total, Bell and May stole more than $11 million from over 15 victims that included a pension plan, and vulnerable and elderly individuals. Now, she has confessed to her crime and faces significant time in prison.”
According to Count One of the Indictment, to which BELL pled guilty, and other statements and submissions in made in Court:
Beginning in 1982, May was the president of ECP and provided financial advisory services to numerous clients. In 1993, BELL joined ECP, where she held various titles including comptroller and chief compliance officer. ECP worked with a broker dealer (“Broker Dealer-1”), of which May became a registered representative in 1994. In its role as a broker dealer, Broker Dealer-1 facilitated the buying and selling of securities for clients of Broker Dealer-1’s registered representatives, including clients of May. Broker Dealer-1 and associated clearing firms maintained securities accounts for ECP’s clients and, through those accounts, held ECP’s clients’ money, executed their securities trades, produced account statements reflecting activity in the clients’ accounts, and forwarded these account statements to ECP’s clients.
In order to obtain money from the Victims’ securities accounts with Broker Dealer-1, May advised the Victims, among other things, that they should use money from those accounts to have ECP, rather than Broker Dealer-1, purchase bonds on their behalf. He further represented that by purchasing bonds through ECP directly, the Victims could avoid transaction fees. Because May lacked the authority to withdraw money directly from the Victims’ accounts with Broker Dealer-1, he persuaded the Victims to withdraw the money themselves and to forward that money to an ECP “custodial” account (the “ECP Custodial Account”), so that he could use the money to purchase bonds on their behalf.
With BELL’s assistance, May guided the Victims, first, to withdraw their money from their Broker Dealer-1 accounts, and second, to send that money to the ECP Custodial Account by wire transfer or check. At times, May falsely represented that the funds being withdrawn from Victims’ Broker Dealer-1 accounts were the proceeds of prior bond purchases May had made. After the Victims sent their money to the ECP Custodial Account, May and BELL did not use the money to purchase bonds. Instead, BELL and May transferred the money to ECP’s “operating” account and spent it on business expenses, personal expenses, and to make payments to certain Victims in order to perpetuate the scheme and conceal the fraud.
Specifically, in some cases, BELL and May used Victims’ funds to make purported bond interest payments to other Victims. In other cases, May used Victims’ funds to make payments to other Victims who wished to withdraw funds from their accounts. BELL and May also created phony “consolidated” account statements that they issued through ECP and sent to the Victims. These “consolidated” account statements purported to reflect the Victims’ total portfolio balances and included the names of bonds May falsely represented that he purchased for the Victims and the amounts of interest the Victims were supposedly earning on the bonds. In order to create the phony consolidated account statements, May provided BELL with bond names and false interest earnings, and BELL created ECP computerized account statements and had them distributed to the Victims.
To keep track of the money that the co-conspirators were taking from the Victims, BELL processed the Victims’ payments for the purported bonds, entered them in a computerized accounting program, and, through that program, kept track of how BELL and May received and spent the Victims’ stolen money. In this way, from the late 1990’s through March 9, 2018, BELL and May induced Victims to forward them more than $11,400,000.
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BELL, 57, of Montvale, New Jersey, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Sentencing before Judge Nelson S. Román has been scheduled for July 7, 2022.
May, who pled guilty in a separate case in December 2018, to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and investment advisor fraud, was sentenced on July 31, 2019, to thirteen years in prison. He was also ordered to serve three years of supervised release, pay $8,041,233 in restitution and forfeit $11,452,185.
The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Special Agents of the United States Attorney’s Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The criminal case is being prosecuted by the Office’s White Plains Division. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Vladislav Vainberg, Margery Feinzig, and Derek Wikstrom are in charge of the prosecution.