Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today announced that it filed a civil injunctive enforcement action in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida against Vertical Integration Group LLC (Vertical) of Lake Worth, Florida, its owner, Richard V. Morello of Lake Worth, Florida, and Junior Alexis of Boynton Beach, Florida. The CFTC Complaint charges the Defendants with engaging in illegal, off-exchange financed transactions in precious metals with retail customers.
The CFTC Complaint alleges that from July 16, 2011, and continuing through at least February 2013, the Defendants solicited retail customers to buy physical precious metals in off-exchange leveraged transactions. Specifically, the CFTC alleges that customers paid Vertical a portion of the purchase price for the metals, and Vertical financed the remainder of the purchase price, while charging the customers interest on the amount purportedly loaned to customers.
Under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank Act), a financed transaction such as those conducted by Vertical is an illegal off-exchange transaction unless it results in actual delivery of metal within 28 days. The CFTC Complaint alleges that with regard to the financed transactions, Vertical’s customers never took delivery of the precious metals they purportedly purchased.
The CFTC further alleges that when Vertical engaged in these illegal transactions they were acting as a dealer for metals merchant Hunter Wise Commodities, LLC (Hunter Wise), whom the CFTC charged with fraud and other violations in federal court in Florida on December 5, 2012 (see CFTC Press Release 6447-12). As alleged in the CFTC Complaint against Hunter Wise and in the Complaint in this case, neither Vertical, nor Hunter Wise actually purchased or held metal on the customers’ behalf.
In its continuing litigation, the CFTC seeks civil monetary penalties, restitution, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, trading and registration bans, and a permanent injunction against further violations of the federal commodities laws, as charged.
The CFTC Division of Enforcement staff responsible for this action are Michelle Bougas, Alan I. Edelman, Alison Wilson, Michael Solinsky, Charles Marvine, and Gretchen L. Lowe.
* * * * * *
CFTC’s Precious Metals Fraud Advisory
The CFTC has issued several customer protection Fraud Advisories that provide the warning signs of fraud. In January 2012, the CFTC issued a Precious Metals Consumer Fraud Advisory to alert customers to precious metals fraud. The Advisory states that the CFTC had seen an increase in the number of companies offering customers the opportunity to buy or invest in precious metals. The CFTC’s Advisory specially warns that companies often fail to purchase any physical metals for their customers; instead the companies simply keep the customers’ funds. The Advisory further cautions consumers that leveraged commodity transactions are unlawful unless executed on a regulated exchange.
Customers can report suspicious activities or information, such as possible violations of commodity trading laws, to the CFTC Division of Enforcement via a Toll-Free Hotline 866-FON-CFTC (866-366-2382) or an online form.