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by Jerry Guarino

“I’d like to open an account,” said the engaging Latina with long, black hair as she glided into the office.

Clayton held out a chair for her. “It’s a great day to invest. What is your name dear?”

She crossed her legs and stroked her pearl necklace. “Ariadna Ramirez. Call me Ari.”

Clayton shifted his body to hide his enthusiasm. “Ari, how much did you want to start with?”

She leaned forward. “$10,000 for now, Mr.?”

Clayton excused himself. “Sorry, Clayton Rook. Ari, I’m so glad to meet you.” His smile was as crooked as Ari’s was pure.

But Ari was really an undercover agent for the SEC, assigned to flush out brokers who were stealing from their clients. Clayton came to her attention because he had swindled her cousin Mateo out of his life savings between 1999 and 2005. He encouraged Mateo to invest in high tech sector funds, with huge broker fees, even as the bottom was falling out of the market. Mateo lost $80,000 over that time period without even a phone call or letter from the broker advising him to make changes in his portfolio.

After Clayton created Ari’s account, now tagged with electronic traces, he thought he would try to establish a different kind of rapport. “Ari, I have time for lunch. Would you join me to celebrate your future wealth?”

She knew he had taken the bait without a clue. “Why not.”

At lunch Clayton brushed his hand against hers and left it there. Ari glanced and replied, “Aren’t you married?” spying the wedding ring.

Clayton rubbed her finger slowly. “Well, that depends on you” and he made eye contact.

Ari played the part. “Hmm. Do you have time for another meeting?” as she nodded toward the registration desk from the hotel restaurant.

The next day Clayton was making changes to Ari’s account. He saw a flash investment memo pop up on his screen:

Evergreen utilities stock. Opening now at $7.50 per share.
40% commission on new account investing over $5,000.

Clayton decided to move Ari’s entire account into the stock, take his commission and falsify documents to show her where her money was invested. He figured he had at least a year to create a trail of circumstances that would explain any losses while he pocketed a cool $4000. What he didn’t know was that Evergreen Utilities was a dummy company, set up by the SEC as part of the sting.

Together in the hotel bar that night, Ari asked Clayton about the investment. “So where have you put my money?”

Clayton had the cool demeanor of a used car salesman. “Diversified portfolio. Stocks, bonds, annuities and even a little gold.”

Ari teased him a little. “Will I get a statement soon?”

Clayton never hesitated. “It’s all online. Here is the login and password.”

Ari thought to herself. He even set up a dummy portfolio. Smooth. She stroked Clayton’s cheek. “Good. Then we have more time for us.” As they were about to go upstairs to the room, they heard a commercial on the television set above the bar. It was for Clayton’s financial services company.

Stay on the right financial path. Follow the yellow brick road to retirement. Call an advisor you can trust. We’ll give you the time and attention you deserve.

Unknown to Clayton (and the SEC), Ari ran a stealth program on his finances, gradually funneling funds from his accounts to an untraceable account for Mateo. Basically, it worked this way. For every dollar that Clayton took from Ari, $8 was transferred to Mateo from Clayton’s accounts. But the missing money never appeared on Clayton’s records; there were phantom numbers to keep Clayton in the dark.

“Don’t you feel bad betraying your wife?”

Clayton took Ari in his arms. “If she doesn’t ask questions, she can’t get hurt, right?” It was the same character flaw that led to his financial malfeasance.

“Well, I’m glad you don’t treat your clients that way.” Ari winked. “Or your girlfriends.”

Ari arranged to be in Clayton’s office the day he was arrested for securities fraud. Mateo was reimbursed and Clayton had to make restitution to the SEC for the original $10,000.