The Securities and Exchange Commission charged a Sarasota, Fla.-based private fund manager with defrauding investors in a Ponzi scheme that ensued after he squandered their money on bad investments and personal expenses.
The SEC alleges that Gaeton “Guy” S. Della Penna raised $3.8 million from investors in three private investment funds that he operated. Investors were told their funds would be used to trade securities or invest in small companies. Despite depicting himself as a distinguished trader and profit-maker, Della Penna lost nearly all of their money by making unsuccessful investments and diverting more than a million dollars to himself for mortgage payments and money for his girlfriend. In an effort to cover up his fraud as it unraveled, Della Penna began operating a Ponzi scheme by using money from newer investors to pay fake returns to prior investors. He provided some investors with false account statements to mislead them into believing they were profiting by investing their money with him.
In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida today announced criminal charges against Della Penna.
“Della Penna lied to investors about his trading track record in order to gain their trust and pocket their investments,” said Eric I. Bustillo, director of the SEC’s Miami Regional Office. “He fostered a false sense of security by creating bogus account statements showing positive returns when, in reality, he was operating a Ponzi scheme and stealing investor money.”
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, many of the investors in Della Penna’s scheme were acquaintances who he met through his church. He solicited investors to purchase notes in his private investment funds from 2008 to 2013, often promising 5 percent annual returns along with 80 percent of the trading profits generated with their investments. He later promised some investors 10 percent returns on their money to be used for investing in small companies. All the while, Della Penna was siphoning away investor funds to the tune of about $1.1 million to make mortgage payments on his 10,000-square-foot home and make payments to his girlfriend who lived with him there. Della Penna also transferred some investor funds into accounts at Gaeton Capital Advisors LLC, an entity that is named as a relief defendant in the SEC’s complaint for the purpose of recovering any investor funds in its possession.
The SEC’s complaint alleges that Della Penna violated Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5, and Sections 206(1), 206(2), and 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and Rule 206(4)-8(a). The SEC is seeking financial penalties, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus prejudgment interest, and a permanent injunction against Della Penna.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Raynette R. Nicoleau and supervised by Chedly C. Dumornay in the Miami Regional Office. The SEC’s litigation will be led by Andrew Schiff. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida and the Tampa division of the U.S. Secret Service.