The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office and the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance have joined in “a consolidated nationwide enforcement action” to disrupt a fraudulent precious metals scheme that has solicited more than $185 million from seniors and other investors across the country, a news release said.
The attorney general’s office, on behalf of the TDCI, last week joined the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and 29 other states to file a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas alleging that Metals.com, had “a reckless disregard for the truth that virtually every one of their (investors) lost the majority of the funds invested in fraudulently overpriced precious metals bullion.”
Metals.com allegedly solicited more than $180 million from seniors and other vulnerable investors nationwide “by touting precious metals at grossly inflated prices. They capitalized on investors’ fear of market instability and economic uncertainty,” Tennessee Commissioner of Commerce & Insurance Hodgen Mainda said in the news release.
“Many investors suffered substantial losses from retirement savings by relying on the false representations made by the defendants and their sales representatives,” Mainda said.
The company’s actions represent “a blatant violation of our state’s securities laws and resulted in many losing their retirement funds,” Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III said in the release.
“Our office is going after people who do something like this. We won’t hesitate in seeking justice for the victims,” Slatery said.
The complaint names TMTE Inc., also known as Metals.com; Chase Metals Inc., Chase Metals LLC, Barrick Capital Inc., Simon Batashvili, Lucas Asher and Tower Equity LLC.
The unregistered Beverly Hills, California-based firm and its sales representatives are accused of targeting elderly investors through traditional and social media, providing unregistered investment advisory services designed to “instill fear in elderly and retirement-aged investors and build trust with investors based on representations of political or religious affinity,” according to the complaint.
Investors were advised to liquidate their holdings at registered investment firms to fund investments in precious metals through self-directed individual retirement accounts and bullion coins, the complaint said.
At least 1,600 seniors and other investors across the U.S. were taken in by the alleged scam, a TDCI news release said.
“We know of a couple dozen victims in Tennessee and anticipate more through the discovery process and further reporting from Tennesseans,” state Assistant Commissioner of Securities Elizabeth Bowling said.
The complaint also alleges the defendants failed to disclose the markup Metals.com and Barrick charged investors for their precious metals bullion products and that investors could lose the majority of their funds immediately upon completing a transaction.
“The defendants charged investors prices for gold or silver bullion averaging from 100% to more than 300% the melt value or spot price of that gold or silver bullion. In many cases, the market value of the precious metals sold to investors was substantially lower than the value of the securities and other retirement savings investors had liquidated to fund their purchase,” Te TDCI release said.
The complaint requests the court order the defendants to cease sales activity, return money to investors and stop defrauding investors and violating federal and state laws going forward. The complaint also requests that a receiver be appointed to take over the companies to marshal funds for the benefit of investors across the country.
“We want to protect Tennessee consumers from these alleged fraudsters and other unscrupulous actors. I encourage any Tennessean who believes they were involved with Metals.com or companies and/or individuals like them to let us know immediately,” Bowling said.