Saturday, November 18, 2017
Business

Pasco man facing fraud accusations is found dead in car

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PALM HARBOR — A 55-year-old Pasco County man facing accusations of foreign currency fraud and heading a Ponzi scheme operation was found dead in a parked car off U.S. 19 early Monday, authorities said.

William Jeffery Chandler died inside a four-door Mercedes parked on Cypress Pond Road, in front of the Muvico Theaters, just before 4 a.m., according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

He had suffered what appeared to be "self-inflicted wounds," said spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda. She would not elaborate.

Chandler's assets were frozen last month after the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission issued an emergency order prohibiting Chandler from touching his assets, in part to prevent him from destroying evidence in a foreign currency fraud and misappropriation case, federal officials confirmed.

A civil suit by the commission alleges that Chandler solicited at least six individuals to contribute about $773,100 to a pooled account in Switzerland. That money then would be used to buy or sell a certain amount of a foreign currency at a fixed price in U.S. dollars.

Federal officials said Chandler guaranteed his benefactors a 2 percent to 12.5 percent return on investment every month in a low-risk, high-reward contract.

But investors never saw the money.

Chandler's account was transferred from the Swiss bank to a U.S.-based foreign exchange dealer in August, but at that time the account's balance only amounted to $292.49.

It is believed Chandler had been misappropriating the pool's funds for personal use. He refused to refund investments to participants and continued to solicit buy-ins to the pool even after the Department of Justice got involved, the complaint says.

The suit also alleges that Chandler fabricated an accounting firm by the name of A.R. Watkins and used it to deal with investors.

Commission officials declined to comment on what Chandler's death means for this case or the investors, several of whom reside in Florida.

At least one of the complainants against Chandler posted an advertisement on several local Craigslist pages asking if anyone in the area had been conned by Chandler, who the page referred to as a "fraudster" and "liar."

It asks that police be notified if anyone encounters Chandler.

Chandler has a history of fraud.

In 1991, he was indicted by a federal court for bank fraud and obtaining money, funds and credits of a bank under false pretenses, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

He was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison, of which he served about eight months in a federal prison in Tennessee. He served three years of probation from the time he was released in February 1992, officials said.

Further information on Chandler's death was not available pending the results of an autopsy and toxicology exam, the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office said.

Times researcher Caryn Baird and Times staff writer Erin Sullivan contributed to this report. Marissa Lang can be reached at mlang@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804 or on Twitter @Marissa_Jae.

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