San Fernando Valley Pastor Arrested for Running a Fraudulent Investment Scheme That Targeted Spanish-Speaking Investors
|U.S. Attorney’s Office January 16, 2014|
LOS ANGELES—A Chatsworth man was arrested this morning by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation after being named in a federal grand jury indictment that charges him with running a multi-million-dollar Ponzi scheme that targeted Latino victims.
Luis Alonso Serna, 61, who operated Architects of the Future Investments, which he purported to be a foreign currency investment company, was arrested this morning on federal charges that allege he ran a Ponzi scheme that lured more than 70 victims into investing almost $4 million.
“The Ponzi scheme is a century-old concept, but it remains a clear and present danger to the investing public,” said United States Attorney André Birotte, Jr. “Cases like the one against Mr. Serna demonstrate the accuracy of the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.”
Serna, the pastor of Zion Living Word Christian Center (formerly Amistad Cristiana) in San Fernando, was named in a superseding indictment returned on January 10. The indictment charges him with two counts of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud, and two counts of money laundering. Serna is expected to be arraigned on the indictment this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles.
“The Postal Inspection Service has no shortage of Ponzi schemes to investigate, and this is another sad example of greed overcoming honest business practices,” said B. Bernard Ferguson, Inspector in Charge for the Los Angeles Division. “Relying on a reputation or relationship is not enough—investors must still verify information, especially if there are claims of outperforming the market.”
According to the indictment, Serna claimed to be a successful investor, but he in fact operated a Ponzi scheme by soliciting funds from investors with false claims that their money would be used to purchase foreign currency. Serna allegedly promised to pay the victims monthly returns of up 20 percent. Serna and people working with him sometimes convinced victims to take liens on their homes to invest, according to prosecutors, who noted that many of those victims lost their homes and some declared bankruptcy.
Bill Lewis, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, said, “The FBI is committed to pursuing criminals who prey upon the investing public through various methods, including sophisticated affinity fraud schemes such as the one we're announcing today. Justice for the victims in this case can be attributed to the collaborative efforts of federal law enforcement.”
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court.
If he is convicted, Serna would face a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison for each of the four fraud charges and up to 10 years in prison for both of the money laundering counts.
This case was investigated by the United States Postal Inspection Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.