A Coto de Caza couple who owned a sporting goods company known as God's Sports Company (GSC) are scheduled to be arraigned this morning on charges of defrauding investors and stealing more than $3 million through an affinity scheme, according to the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA).
What is an affinity scheme? The OCDA, citing the Securities and Exchange Commission, says:
Affinity fraud refers to investment scams that prey upon members of identifiable groups, such as religious or ethnic communities, the elderly or professional groups. The fraudsters who promote affinity scams frequently are - or pretend to be - members of the group. They often enlist respected community or religious leaders from within the group to spread the word about the scheme by convincing those people that a fraudulent investment is legitimate and worthwhile. Many times, those leaders become unwitting victims of the fraudster's ruse.
These scams exploit the trust and friendship that exist in groups of people who have something in common. Because of the tight-knit structure of many groups, it can be difficult for regulators or law enforcement officials to detect an affinity scam. Victims often fail to notify authorities or pursue their legal remedies and instead try to work things out within the group. This is particularly true where the fraudsters have used respected community or religious leaders to convince others to join the investment.
Steven Andrew McKinlay, 58, and Kristi B. McKinlay (licensed as Kindred), 56, are accused of victimizing more than 10 people, including an unnamed former Major League Baseball player, a family friend who came into money through a devastating personal injury, and a cancer patient who wanted to secure an inheritance for his family, the OCDA claims.
"Their investments ranged from $22,500 to over $700,000," prosecutors say of the alleged victims. "Many of the victims had been associated with the defendants through the church they attended."
The fraud is said to have happened between Sept. 12, 2011, and June 27, 2015, and is said to have included GSC failing to disclose material facts, including prior bankruptcy filings by Steven McKinlay and outstanding liens against him and his wife, using investor funds to pay back some of the other investors in a "Ponzi" scheme, and using investor money for personal use.
For instances, the McKinlays are accused by the OCDA of spending investors' money on $10,000 a month rent for a San Clemente home and $7,000 a month rent for a Coto de Caza home, paying for their daughter's wedding, purchasing a luxury suite at Anaheim Stadium for Angels games, purchasing cars, and paying off old debts and day-to-day expenses.
"They are accused of using investors' money to donate $50,000 to their church," the OCDA notes. "The defendants are also accused putting their relatives and their friends' relatives on GSC payroll."
This case was investigated by the OCDA Bureau of Investigations after receiving a complaint from a whistleblower, according to the agency, which adds, "Several victims were unaware that their investments had been defrauded until being contacted by the OCDA during the course of the investigation."
That's hard to believe if you Google "God's Sports Company." You'll find links that indicate the company in the 27000 block of Burbank in Foothill Ranch had built quite a following for its bats among senior citizen baseball and softball players.
You'll also discover many, many messages from people claiming their ordered bats never arrived, their investments were going nowhere and getting ahold of anyone with the company was impossible.
The McKinlays were arrested on Friday. They are charged with 10 felony counts of using untrue statements in the purchase or sale of a security, one felony count of grand theft, and one felony count for the use of a device in a scheme to defraud, with sentencing enhancement allegations for loss over $100,000, aggravated white collar crime over $500,000, causing property damage with loss over $1.3 million.
If convicted, they could get up to 23 years and eight months in state prison, the OCDA says.
Currently in custody on $3 million bail—they must prove the money is from a legal and legitimate source before posting bond—the couple has a continued arraignment hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Central Jail in Santa Ana.
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Meanwhile, anyone with additional information or who believes they have been a victim is encouraged to contact Supervising District Attorney Investigator Damon Tucker at 714.648.3615.
"Affinity fraud most commonly happens in church, where victims are asked to invest with a false sense of trust in an investor who preaches morals and ethics," warns District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. "I want to remind the public that affinity fraud can also happen with people having the same nationality, race or are living in senior living communities. Nobody is exempt from affinity fraud and people should vet everyone before investing, especially those they have a lot in common with or they think they know well and can trust."
His office offers these tips on how to avoid becoming an investment fraud victim:
When making an investment decision, it is important to use common sense and remember:
If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
You should always know what you are signing.
You don't get something for nothing.
If you aren't sure about the investment, talk to a qualified, independent professional.
When listening to someone about a great investment opportunity, ask yourself:
Why are they offering this to me? Why can't they get money from the bank?
Why are they offering me such a great deal when they can get my money cheaper in other ways?
Can I afford the higher risk for this promise of a higher return?
Why have other brokers/investors/businesses passed on this deal?
Has the promoter provided professional references, not including other investors with a vested interest, for the promoter and his investment?
Before investing, always check with the Department of Business Oversight (www.dbo.ca.gov) to find out if the investment has been qualified and the promoters are properly licensed to offer securities. Never turn over your life's "nest egg" without first discussing it with a qualified, independent professional.