Four people have been charged with swindling investors in Orange and San Diego counties—many of them senior citizens—out of more than $3 million. And none of the four have the last name “Harkey.” (Sorry … couldn't resist.)
Richard Provencio, 64, his wife Carmen Provencio, 60, Julio Gomez, 43, and Carl Battie Hampton, 57, are charged in a 105-count criminal complaint filed in San Diego Superior Court that accuses them of securities fraud, elder fraud, burglary and perjury.
Currently, there are 28 alleged victims, although the San Diego County District Attorney's office fears there may be more. The agency investigated the case with the FBI and California Department of Insurance.
The Provencios' two companies, Masters of Retirement and American Equity Direct, allegedly offered phony investment opportunities that offered returns of 7 to 15 percent, according to prosecutors, who say all $3.1 million invested was lost.
Bonnie Dumanis of the San Diego prosecutor's office told City News Service the defendants in this case “were ruthless and heartless,” and state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones opined, “I find these crimes to be particularly appalling.”
“I have no tolerance for those who prey on the vulnerable,” Jones added, “especially seniors who lost their life savings to these scammers and were left in a devastating financial hole.”
Gomez, an investment salesman, could get 25 years in prison if convicted of the charges against him, but the Provencios and Hampton face up to 42 years behind bars, according to prosecutors.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.