SEC goes after infomercial personalities in investor workshop fraud
The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil fraud charges against two promoters who illegally made millions selling a get-rich-quick stock trading system they touted on TV and at investor workshops at hotels in dozens of cities nationwide.
The Commission's complaint alleges that Linda Woolf and David Gengler, both of Utah, duped seniors and others who had attended free introductory seminars into believing they would make extraordinary stock market profits if they bought expensive "Teach Me to Trade" (TMTT) classes, mentoring, and computer software.
In order to con victims into paying as much as $40,000 for TMTT products and services, the Commission alleges that Woolf and Gengler lied about their success with the trading system, when in truth neither Woolf nor Gengler ever purchased TMTT's products or became successful traders.
"The allegations depict a cold-hearted scheme that preyed on the elderly, the desperate, and even the unemployed by promising financial security while instead robbing victims blind," said SEC Chairman Christopher Cox. "The Commission's charges should send a warning to all those who would masquerade as successful traders on TV while prowling the country for victims."
Linda Chatman Thomsen, Director of the SEC's Enforcement Division, added, "The evidence shows they callously urged customers to go into debt to purchase expensive products and services. Today's charges make clear that we will hold accountable those who prey on seniors and other investors."
The Commission's complaint alleges that at their workshop presentations between 2003 and 2006, Woolf and Gengler made false and misleading statements to sell TMTT packages of personal mentoring, software and classes ranging in price from approximately $11,000 to $40,000. According to the Commission's complaint, Woolf and Gengler also appeared in television infomercials portraying themselves as successful former TMTT customers, with Woolf targeting retirees, among others. In his workshops, Gengler urged investors to borrow against their retirement accounts to follow TMTT strategies.
Through false stories of their own trading success and bogus claims of a 96.5 percent success rate for TMTT students who purchased personal mentoring, courses, and software, Woolf and Gengler convinced attendees that they, too, would make extraordinary profits in the stock market if they followed TMTT's trading strategies that emphasized options trading and short-term swing trading.
In one infomercial, for example, Woolf told how she used to be an elementary school teacher and was able to replace her entire income after attending TMTT workshops. "I had no idea it was that easy to learn how to make money in the stock market," Woolf said. In another infomercial, Gengler claimed, "If you can simply follow steps and follow our principles, you'll make money. It's that simple."
Instead, the Commission alleges, Woolf and Gengler are unsuccessful traders, with Woolf having never declared a trading profit on her federal tax returns and Gengler typically declaring losses, or no profits. However, Woolf reaped approximately $4 million in commissions from selling TMTT packages, and Gengler made approximately $2.25 million, according to the Commission's complaint.
The Commission's complaint against Woolf and Gengler seeks disgorgement of their ill-gotten gains, civil money penalties and permanent injunctions enjoining the defendants from violating the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws.
In a related action, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia has announced the filing of an indictment against Woolf and Gengler.
The Commission acknowledges the assistance of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Florida Attorney General's Office.
The Commission's investigation is continuing.