The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced fraud charges against a New York-based brokerage firm and two brokers who allegedly used misleading sales tactics to steer investors toward risky investments in a purported clean energy company so the firm could earn lucrative commissions.
The SEC’s Division of Enforcement alleges that Gregg Lorenzo, the founder of Charles Vista LLC, teamed with an investment banker named Frank Lorenzo and made a litany of false, misleading, and unfounded statements to create the impression that speculative debt securities issued by Waste2Energy Holdings Inc., which were convertible into stock, were risk-free and likely to result in enormous investment returns. The Lorenzos are not related. While Gregg Lorenzo was touting the profitability of investing in Waste2Energy, which purported to possess technology for converting waste into clean energy, the company was struggling in reality. Waste2Energy eventually filed for bankruptcy.
“Charles Vista customers were told a false tale of a safe and conservative investment with an explosive upside, but the risky downside was downplayed in the story,” said Andrew M. Calamari, Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office. “Brokerage customers deserve unbiased and fair recommendations about the risks of potential investments, not misleading boiler room sales tactics.”
According to the SEC’s order instituting administrative proceedings against Charles Vista and the Lorenzos, investors were solicited to purchase the Waste2Energy convertible debentures in 2009 and 2010. An e-mail that Charles Vista sent customers made various false claims, such as Waste2Energy possessing “over $10 million in confirmed assets” to provide investors with protection against losses. In reality, the company had written its assets down to less than $1 million.
The SEC’s Division of Enforcement alleges that Gregg Lorenzo, who lives in Staten Island, made verbal sales pitches to investors that misrepresented Waste2Energy’s financial condition and business prospects. He made the debentures’ stock conversion feature appear valuable by making baseless predictions about the future of the company’s stock.
Lorenzo told at least one investor that he believed Waste2Energy “will be a NASDAQ trading stock within 12 months. I believe they will meet the listing requirements.” Frank Lorenzo was the head of investment banking at Charles Vista until he left the firm in 2010. He sent e-mails to Charles Vista customers that contained false or misleading claims about Waste2Energy’s assets and alleged contracts.
According to the SEC’s order, Charles Vista was the exclusive placement agent for the issuance of these Waste2Energy securities, and the firm’s financial interest in the offering was considerable. Documents attached to some of Waste2Energy’s SEC filings indicate that Charles Vista had arranged to receive a 10 percent “commission” on the gross proceeds of all debentures sales, a consulting fee of $10,000 per month for 12 months, and various other commissions and fees.
The SEC’s Division of Enforcement alleges that Charles Vista and the Lorenzos willfully violated Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and Rule 10b-5. Charles Vista also allegedly violated Exchange Act Section 15(c) and Rule 10b-3. The administrative proceedings will determine what, if any, remedial action or financial penalties are appropriate in the public interest against Charles Vista and the Lorenzos.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Peter Pizzani, Melissa Coppola, Michael Osnato, and Jack Kaufman in the New York Regional Office. The SEC’s litigation will be led by Mr. Kaufman and Joseph Boryshansky.