A New York investment adviser is facing fraud charges after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission says the man operated a Ponzi scheme fronted as a multi-million-dollar investment club targeting members of the Haitian community, his family and his friends.

Ruless Pierre ran an investment club called the Amongst Friends Investment Group according to the SEC. Starting in at least March 2017, Pierre allegedly raised more than $2 million from at least 100 investors, mostly Haitian New Yorkers the SEC said. Pierre reportedly promised investors unrealistically high rates of return of at least 20 percent every 60 days.

The SEC says Pierre instead lost money trading securities. To fool investors, Pierre used money he embezzled from a former employer to pay interest to investors. Pierre is also accused of taking money from new investors to pay old investors, issuing false account statements that showed investment gains.

Pierre is also accused of raising at least $375,000 from more than 15 investors in a scheme involving the sale of partnership interests in a fast food chain. Around November 2018, Pierre started selling partnership interest in a fast food franchise, falsely guaranteeing 10 percent monthly returns and quarterly profit sharing. The SEC says Pierre knew the franchise would not return the profits he promised investors.

We allege that Pierre’s Amongst Friends investment opportunity that targeted members of Pierre’s local Haitian community was built on a foundation of lies and deceit,” said Marc P. Berger, Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office in a release. “Investors should be wary of investments promising rates of return that seem too good to be true, and are encouraged to ask questions and check on their investment professional’s background at http://www.Investor.gov.”

For Pierre’s alleged actions, the SEC recommends he be ordered to pay back his ill-gotten gains to investors, pay civil penalties and barring him from the securities industry.

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