FORMER head of the now-defunct Worldwise Partners Ponzi scheme, Noel Strachan, is facing up to 20 years in a US prison after he was indicted by a grand jury of the US District Court Southern District of Florida, along with 10 co-accused, for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Strachan, who bilked thousands of Jamaicans out of hundreds of millions of dollars and fled to the US over a decade ago, was arrested by the US Marshals Service last Thursday in Broward County, Florida, more than four months after the indictment alleging the charges was drafted. The indictment is dated October 28, 2022.
The indictment, which is 23 pages long, alleges that Strachan and his co-accused either stole or fraudulently obtained up to 100 vehicles – including high-end models of Cadillacs, Mercedes Benzes, BMWs and Polaris Slingshots – and either sold them or used them as collateral for loans using false identification with forged signatures.
Strachan's co-accused in the fraud are Omar Etayem, also known as Omar Rivera; Odain March; Yegisibet Benli, also known as Lisa Benli; Yunior Muro; Michael Pardos, also known as Mario Cruise or Gangster Mike; Anthony Jonas; Javier Arguelles, also known as Cuba; Marlon Foster; Demal Cheeks; and Derrol Scafe.
Count one of the indictment, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, outlined that Strachan and his co-accused from in or around March 2017, through in or around April 2019, in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties, in the Southern District of Florida, and elsewhere, "did wilfully, that is, with the intent to further the purpose of the conspiracy, and knowingly combine, conspire, and agree with each other and with others known and unknown to the grand jury, to knowingly and with the intent to defraud, devise, and intend to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud, and to obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, knowing that such pretenses, representations, and promises were false and fraudulent when made, and for the purpose of executing such scheme and artifice to defraud, did knowingly transmit and cause to be transmitted, by means of wire communications in interstate and foreign commerce, certain writings, signs, signals, pictures, and sounds, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343," the indictment read.
It claimed that it was the purpose of the conspiracy for the defendants and their co-conspirators to unlawfully enrich themselves and others by, among other things: (1) acquiring vehicles through various means, including by theft and deception, (2) preparing and submitting false and fraudulent title application documents to remove the vehicle's lawful owner and lienholders from the title; and (3) retaining possession of the vehicle for personal use and enjoyment or selling the vehicle for a profit, or both.
It continued: "Noel Strachan and his co-conspirators acquired vehicles through various means. Some vehicles were stolen. Some vehicles were purchased by straw buyers. Some vehicles were rented using fraudulent means of identification and never returned. Some vehicles were purchased at a steeply discounted rate from distressed owners who financed the initial purchase of the vehicle."
They are also accused of altering and causing to be altered the vehicle identification number (VIN) or the mileage on some of the vehicles. In addition to the fraudulent activities, Strachan and his co-conspirators even checked if the vehicles were reported stolen by entering or causing to be entered some VINs into the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle database and to see if any alert has been put out on them that would prevent a title transfer from occurring.
Strachan and his co-accused were helped in the fraud by Yegisibet Benli, an office manager at a company in Broward County, Florida. Benli is accused of being the person who provided courier services, taking the documents to Yunior Muro, a title clerk at a State of Florida tag agency in Miami-Dade County, Florida, who authorised the processing of titles for the vehicles.
Muro issued titles to vehicles, knowing that the title application documents were false and fraudulent, and often incomplete or erroneous under Florida law.
These fraudulently obtained vehicle titles removed all prior owners and lienholders from the title or, if the vehicle was stolen, created a new title with a fraudulent VIN for the stolen vehicle, the indictment alleges.
ln some instances, after a fraudulently obtained vehicle title was issued, Noel Strachan and his co-conspirators also applied for a loan, using the fraudulently obtained vehicle title as collateral.
The defendants were also charged on 10 counts of wire fraud relating the scheme during the same period.
The indictment under the signature of Assistant US Attorney Adam Hapner said the case should take 10 days for the parties to try.
The grand jury is asking the court to allow it to forfeit any property the defendants are found to own or have an interest in.
Strachan led WorldWise Investments over a decade ago. It was among several unregulated alternative investment schemes that collapsed in the late 2000s after being served with a 'cease and desist' order by the Financial Services Commission.
However, before the FSC could serve the order, Strachan and his family migrated to the United States.
With a promise of a 200 per cent yearly return on investments, many people had joined with the investment group and lost more than $200 million when it collapsed, according to law enforcement authorities.
Since that time, Strachan has stridently denied that he operated a Ponzi scheme and used his clients' funds to purchase a private jet, several luxury vehicles and real estate in Florida.
Worldwise Investments was among of slew of Ponzi schemes at the time including Olint and Cash Plus.