It took a 9-year-investigation, but four people were sentenced to federal prison yesterday for operating a $170 million Ponzi scheme that sent federal agents to three continents to hunt them down, The Oregonian reports. The four used church groups, get-rich seminars, and the Internet to persuade more than 4,000 people to invest money in an offshore bank in Grenada. They promised fantastic returns and claimed the bank was guaranteed, in part, by a $20 million ruby carved into a statue of a boy riding a water buffalo. The First International Bank of Grenada sent dividends to few and destroyed the personal fortunes of many. The defendants turned the money into such extravagances as private Learjet trips, Lexus, Jaguar, and Mercedes-Benz autos, a $2 million Las Vegas mansion, tropical vacations, an organic tomato farm in Mulino, a walled compound hideout in Uganda and a yacht aptly named “Off Shore Funs,” court records show.
The prison terms of three men and a woman ranged from a little more than eight years in prison to 18 months. The fraud first came to light in early 1998, when an undercover investigator for the Oregon Division of Finance and Corporate Securities sat through an investment seminar. The key speaker was Van Brink, later described as the mastermind of the First International Bank of Grenada scheme. FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents — seven by the end of the investigation — tracked the schemers and their associates to the United Kingdom, Canada, Uganda, Hawaii and the Caribbean islands of Grenada, Dominica, and the Bahamas.