The Securities and Exchange Commission today filed an emergency enforcement action to halt an ongoing fraud by an investment adviser based in Albany, N.Y., who is charged with lying to clients about the success of their investments while stealing their money for his personal use.
The SEC alleges that Scott Valente and his firm The ELIV Group LLC have fraudulently raised more than $8.8 million from approximately 80 clients by falsely claiming they achieve consistent and outsized positive returns among other misrepresentations about the safety of the investments. ELIV Group has in fact earned no positive results at all, instead sustaining consistent investment losses for the past three years. Meanwhile, Valente has been making substantial cash withdrawals of client funds and spending their money on his home improvements and mortgage payments as well as jewelry and a vacation condominium. Valente’s unsuccessful trading strategies and misappropriations have severely diluted the amount of client funds on hand at ELIV Group, and the SEC is seeking an asset freeze to halt the fraud as Valente continues to solicit new clients with his false claims. ELIV Group has offices in Albany and Warwick, N.Y.
“Valente used his one-man advisory firm to fraudulently lure unsuspecting investors in the Albany and Warwick communities to invest millions of dollars with him as advisory clients,” said Andrew M. Calamari, director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office. “He said all the right things to make investors believe he was making the right investments and taking the right precautions with their money, but he was merely telling blatant false tales about the safety and success of the investments.”
Sanjay Wadhwa, senior associate director for enforcement in the SEC’s New York office, added, “Beyond the lies to his clients regarding his investment performance, Valente’s abuse of his fiduciary obligations included the theft of at least $2.66 million in client funds for personal spending, including hefty credit card bills, a vacation home, and jewelry.”
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Valente misleadingly told his clients that he has a 30-year record of investing experience “dedicated to the highest standards of service” and that he founded ELIV Group after leaving the “corporate financial industry” upon concluding there “had to be a better way for clients to achieve financial independence.” What he failed to disclose was that he twice filed for bankruptcy and started ELIV Group only after the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) permanently expelled him from the broker-dealer industry in 2009 for engaging in serial misconduct against numerous customers.
The SEC alleges that Valente and ELIV Group attracted clients by falsely assuring them that the principal amount of their investments was fully liquid and “guaranteed” because it was backed by a large money market fund. Client funds were in fact never guaranteed or backed by any money market funds, and the majority of ELIV Group’s investments were in highly illiquid investments in privately-held companies. Valente and ELIV Group also assured clients that the firm’s books and records were audited independently. However, ELIV Group never had an auditor, and the firm sent clients monthly investment reports in which they actually inflated the monthly returns, assets under management, and client account values.
The SEC’s complaint charges Valente and ELIV with violating Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5(b) as well as Sections 206(1) and 206(2) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The SEC is seeking a temporary restraining order to freeze their assets and prohibit Valente and ELIV from committing further violations of the federal securities laws. The SEC seeks a final judgment ordering them to disgorge their ill-gotten gains plus prejudgment interest and pay financial penalties.
The SEC’s investigation, which is continuing, has been conducted by Gerald Gross, Richard Primoff, and Barry O’Connell of the New York Regional Office. The inquiry that led to the investigation was conducted by Richard Heaphy, Yvette Panetta, Dee-Ann DiSalvo, and Edward Cody of the New York Regional Office. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.