AG's office helps stop Ponzi scheme in northern panhandle

By Chris Dickerson | Oct 13, 2016

WHEELING — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey says his office was involved in breaking up a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors of millions.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges Donna S. Brown, 65, of Clarington, Ohio, operated Budget Finance Company of New Martinsville, West Virginia. It operated as a licensed consumer loan business, in addition to an unlicensed investment company that lured potential investors with the promise of annual returns of 8 to 12 percent.

Morrisey's office assisted federal prosecutors by identifying approximately 200 investors and forwarding their information to investigators.

“Identifying these investors and gathering their information helped strengthen the federal government’s case,” Morrisey said in a statement. “I applaud our Consumer Protection Division, investigators and others, while hoping their efforts help West Virginia investors recoup as much as possible.”

A bill of information charges Brown with single counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman alleges Brown used money from new investors to pay existing ones, as no substantial investment source existed to account for more than 800 investment accounts with investments exceeding $31 million.

A plea agreement estimates the total loss at between $9.5 million and $25 million, which created a substantial financial hardship for at least 25 investors victimized by the scheme.

Budget Finance suddenly closed in November 2015.

Others involved in the case include Glassman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, and several federal agencies, along with West Virginia State Auditor Lisa Hopkins, West Virginia Division of Financial Institutions Acting Commissioner Dawn Holstein and Wetzel County Prosecutor Tim Haught.

Federal prosecutors indicate each charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, three years of supervised release and restitution to the victims of the crimes.

The Attorney General and U.S. Attorney suggest victims monitor the progress of the case through the “Budget Finance Company, Inc.” tab on the home page of the U.S. Attorney’s Office website or call the hotline established for victims at 866-532-9098.

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