FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The threat of prison and deportation looms for Barry Bekkedam, a Palm Beach regular who wasn't born rich, but found success as one of the country's top fee-only financial advisers. The days when his clients trusted him with more than $2.5 billion in assets are behind him.
Bekkedam couldn't shake off the federal agents who investigated him for his role in two frauds: Scott Rothstein's $1.25 billion Ponzi scheme and the Nova Bank scheme to defraud the federal government of $13.5 million in bailout funds.
Both probes involved his relationship with Fort Lauderdale businessman George Levin, a self-made millionaire who helped to feed $157 million to Rothstein's Ponzi scheme. Bekkedam helped Levin raise millions in exchange for favors, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
"Fifteen years of working for and with Barry tells me that he is a generous, honest person," Philadelphia attorney Lawrence D. Rovin wrote in a letter to a federal judge. "If anything, his flaw is that he assumes that those he deals with are as honest as he is."
Bekkedam's love of basketball took him from a quaint riverside town in Ontario, to becoming the first Canadian to suit up for the star-laden McDonald's All-American game. The imposing teen, who stood 6 feet, 10 inches tall, earned scholarships to prestigious Catholic schools.
When the NBA didn't draft him and his basketball career came to an end, he had a bachelor's degree in accounting and a strong network who vouched for his integrity when he got involved in wealth management.
After the dot-com bubble and during the recession of the early 2000s, he and his neighbor Brian Hartline formed Nova Bank in Pennsylvania. But when the housing bubble burst, the bank was stuck with bad loans and investments. To salvage what was left, Bekkedam got caught up in a frantic scramble for cash.
A 'WHALE'S' SHORT WINS
Professional gambler Robert "RJ" Cipriani, better known as RobinHood702, said Bekkedam came to him for help. Cipriani said he trusted Bekkedam and didn't sense he was desperate for cash when he behaved like a "white knight" and handed over $5,000 to a homeless mission in Las Vegas.
"He seemed to care for the little guy," Cipriani said.
Cipriani said he helped to turn Bekkedam from a "high roller" to a "whale," after he taught him how to get casinos to give him generous no-interest credit lines known as markers. Bekkedam said he claimed about $2.2 million of winnings in 2010.
Casinos rolled out the red carpet for Bekkedam with allowances for private jets, chauffeured cars, stays at guest-only luxury properties and a Rolex watch for his birthday. With casinos tempting greed, Cipriani said he regrets there was very little he could do to save him from getting caught up in debt.
Unlike a bank's credit line, debt from casino markers is prosecuted under Nevada's bad check laws. A casino employee said Bekkedam got on a payment plan, paid off his debt and was banned from some casinos.
"Barry killed them in casinos all over the country and was a feared gambler, because he could win over a million dollars in a sitting, and he did it consistently," Cipriani said. But "Barry thought the gambling gods were going to let him win millions and millions over and over forever. That does not happen."
ROLE IN DEBT TRAPS
Bekkedam has maintained a luxurious lifestyle in Hobe Sound, a wealthy community close to the Trump International Golf Club. He found refuge in Florida's controversial homestead-exemption law, which prevents creditors from going after homeowners' "principal place of residence."
Florida records show most recently Bekkedam and Rovin were a part of a low-income debt trap registered out of an office in Palm Beach Gardens. On marketing materials, next to the picture of a man dressed as a U.S. postal worker, Archerfield Funding makes a promise: "You work hard for yourself and your family. We deliver the money you need for as long as you need it."
Archerfield Funding offers short-term loans ranging from $500 to $5,000. In turn, debtors have to commit to an annual percentage rate of 60 to 125 percent and grant access to their income. The deal sometimes turns into a cycle of automatic withdrawals that always leaves some vulnerable debtors wanting more.
The legal practice thrives amid financial deregulation. Archerfield Funding was formed in Delaware, where a lot of these companies turn to minimize taxes and cover their tracks.
Bekkedam claims he did not found, own or ever operate the company. But records show he registered the business in Florida in 2011 and was registered as the manager March 17, 2016. He left his position about a week after a jury found him and his co-defendant Brian Hartline guilty of conspiracy to defraud the federal government in a case related to Nova Bank.
$13.5M BAILOUT FUNDS CASE
Hartline, the former CEO of the now defunct Nova Bank, was serving 14 months in a low-security federal prison. Bekkedam was sentenced to 11 months in prison for Troubled Asset Relief Program fraud, conspiracy to defraud the feds and two counts of false statements to the feds. He was released pending the results of his appeal.
The case focused on the bank's application to get $13.5 million in federal bailout funds that the bank never even got. Bekkedam wasn't an employee of the bank when the bank applied for the funds. His "role was in bringing investors to the bank," his attorney, Christopher D. Man, said during a sentencing hearing.
Federal prosecutor David J. Ignall presented e-mails that he said showed Bekkedam and Hartline were part of a "circular" scheme to reinvest bank loans in the bank. When Levin borrowed $5 million from the bank, he gave it to Bekkedam, who then put it back in the bank. They wanted to fool the government into thinking that the bank had secured new private capital, Ignall said.
"They’re in this together," Ignall said during the sentencing. "They’re the ones who put this deal together."
While Levin wasn't interested in the bank, prosecutors said he was interested in the millions that Bekkedam's advisory clients could bring to the Rothstein's Ponzi scheme. Levin also bought about $3 million in municipal bonds from Bekkedam, and he helped him to restructure $10 million of his personal and business debt, according to the SEC.
The SEC's 2014 securities fraud case for his role in the Ponzi scheme was suspended during the criminal case, but prosecutors can reopen it. The SEC accused Bekkedam of making "material misrepresentations and omissions regarding the level of due diligence."
Bekkedam's attorney said during the sentencing hearing for the criminal TARP funds case that Bekkedam was concerned about getting deported back to Canada. While he was out on bail pending an appeal of his sentence, if the appellate court upholds the conviction, he will have to report to federal prison.
Man painted Bekkedam's worst case scenario during the sentencing hearing. Once the prison sentence is near to completion, immigration authorities could detain Bekkedam. The detention would take place while they decide whether or not to deport him.
"And they may decide not to deport [him]," Man said. "But in the process, he may spend several months under a detainer, where he has spent more time in prison as a detainee than as a prisoner."