LAS VEGAS » Authorities in the U.S. are seeking the arrest of the chief executive of a Las Vegas investment company and two of his former Asia-based executives on an indictment alleging they headed a $1.5 billion Ponzi-style fraud scheme, officials announced Wednesday.
Edwin Fujinaga of Las Vegas, and Junzo Suzuki and Paul Suzuki, both of Tokyo, were each indicted on eight counts of mail fraud and nine counts of wire fraud in a scheme that prosecutors and the FBI said operated through Las Vegas-based MRI International Inc.
Thousands of unsuspecting Japanese investors were victimized, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said.
Fujinaga, 68, also is charged with three counts of money laundering, and the indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas seeks from the three defendants the forfeiture of the proceeds of their alleged crimes. They could face decades in prison if they are convicted.
Attorneys listed in federal court records as having represented Fujinaga; Junzo Suzuki, 66; and his son, Paul Suzuki, 36, in other cases didn’t immediately respond to telephone and email messages seeking comment.
The indictment was announced by Caldwell and two top federal law officials in Nevada, U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden and FBI Special Agent in Charge Laura Bucheit in Las Vegas.
It identifies Fujinaga as former president and chief executive of MRI, Junzo Suzuki as the firm’s Asia Pacific executive vice president and Paul Suzuki as general manager for Japan operations.
Bogden said they told thousands of overseas victims that their investments would be safely held and managed by an independent, third-party escrow agent in Nevada.
Meanwhile, Fujinaga and the Suzukis are accused of using investors’ funds to pay for gambling, travel by private jet and other personal expenses.
The scheme operated for at least four years before it was exposed in April 2013, according to the charging document.
Investments were primarily sold through the company service center in Tokyo, promising high returns and low risk through a technique dubbed "factoring." The company promised high returns buying accounts receivable from medical providers at a discount, then attempting to recover more than the discounted amount from the debtor.
The government alleges the Ponzi scheme defrauded victims by using money from new enrollees to pay early-stage investors and persuade others to take part.
The largest Ponzi-style fraud in U.S. history, involving New York financier Bernard Madoff, bilked investors of an estimated $20 billion. Madoff was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to 150 years in prison.