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Three attorneys named in $100M scam based in bay area

TAMPA — Three attorneys have been named in a multimillion-dollar investment scam that federal prosecutors say was headquartered in Tampa Bay by a local father and daughter.

A superseding indictment filed last month also charges two United Kingdom citizens, along with the two Texas lawyers and one from New York, in the conspiracy to hijack defunct corporations and dupe international investors of more than $100 million.

Paul Robert Gunter, 60, of Odessa and his daughter, Zibiah Joy Gunter, 26, of Oldsmar, led the team that hijacked the identities of 54 publicly traded companies and sold bogus stocks to victim investors in Ireland and the United Kingdom, prosecutors said.

According to court records, Texas attorneys Roger Lee Shoss and Nicolette Loisel, and New York lawyer Lawrence S. Hartman illegally acquired the identities of the dormant shell companies.

Simon Andrew Odoni and Richard Sinclair Pope, the United Kingdom citizens, are charged with facilitating sales of fraudulent stock to investors. Odoni and Pope also controlled the flow of money from victim investors into bank accounts that the pair could access, their charges state.

Investigators described Odoni as the point person in the Dominican Republic and Pope as the go-to man in Spain. A magistrate judge in Tampa ordered Odoni detained without bond at his arraignment on Thursday.

The Gunters, who are out on bail, ran the operation out of offices in Palm Harbor and Clearwater, authorities said.

Prosecutors said the group appeared to have acted as a clearinghouse, handling all the wire transfers into the companies from victim investors, and disbursing funds from Tampa Bay area banks to partners in Texas, Costa Rica and elsewhere.

The scheme primarily targeted retired or semiretired investors in the United Kingdom. Victims received unsolicited phone calls from people offering to sell shares in companies with little to no risk, "almost guaranteed to increase significantly," court documents said.

Authorities said the calls appeared to be made from "boiler rooms" based in Spain, which were linked to Paul Gunter after investigators reviewed his laptop and other computer software.

In some instances, court records said, victims who purchased fraudulent stock received letters advising them they would be charged a fee of either $50 or 1 percent of their investment. The victim was led to believe that the remaining 99 percent would go to the company they were purchasing shares in.

Instead, investigators said, the 99 percent was divided between the conspirators according to formulas found on Paul Gunter's computer, with a sizable share being put back into the boiler-room operation to keep tapping more bank accounts.

A status hearing about the Gunters is scheduled for Thursday before U.S. District Judge Richard Lazzara.

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Three attorneys named in $100M scam based in bay area 04/10/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 10, 2009 10:39pm]
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