PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – A South Florida woman and two other men are accused of duping elderly retirees into investing thousands of dollars into a phony fish farm.
Matthew Braun, Michael Creamer and Rebeca Gonzalez face charges of organized scheme to defraud, sale of unregistered securities, sale of securities by an unregistered person and securities fraud.
Braun, 36, and Gonzalez, 43, both of Boca Raton, were arrested in Palm Beach County late last month. Creamer, 48, of Largo, was arrested Monday. All three have since been released from jail on bond.
According to a news release from the Office of Statewide Prosecution, the trio preyed upon seniors in Broward, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties, deceiving at least five people into investing more than $400,000 in a fake fish farm called Blue Ocean Farm.
"These defendants are charged with targeting seniors and trying to steal their hard-earned retirement money with false promises of big profits," Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement. "Anyone who tries to defraud Florida seniors deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
According to an arrest affidavit, Gonzalez and Braun contacted Carmine Della Rocca, 84, of Tamarac, in 2013 and solicited two investment checks totaling $110,000.
Della Rocca, believing that Gonzalez was working for a licensed securities investment firm, promised to invest $100,000 into Blue Ocean Farm and later gave an additional $10,000 in exchange for a higher interest rate on his principal.
Della Rocca told investigators that Gonzalez told him his investment "would yield a guaranteed return." But Della Rocca never received any repayment of the principal or interest returns on his investment.
Investigators said they determined Braun, Creamer and Gonzalez defrauded investors using false promissory notes like the one signed by Della Rocca.
"Furthermore, your affiants have found no evidence that Blue Ocean Farm LLC actually owns and operates fish farms or is even a legitimate business," the affidavit said.
Instead, investigators said, Blue Ocean Farm was a "shell corporation created for the sole purpose of defrauding potential investors/victims."
In addition to Della Rocca, the suspects are also alleged to have duped a 70-year-old man in Lake Worth, an 84-year-old woman in Boynton Beach, an 84-year-old woman in Boca Raton and a Sunrise woman whose family was suing Blue Ocean Farm for investments made before her death in 2015.
Braun, Creamer and Gonzalez face up to 70 years in prison if convicted.