Santa Barbara man indicted for allegedly running $12 million Ponzi scheme

BY JOSH FRIEDMAN

A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted a Santa Barbara man who allegedly stole approximately $12 million from victims who were promised their money would be used to buy annuities from Swiss insurance companies, but instead the funds went toward purchases like expensive watches, trips to Monaco and U2 concert tickets.

Darrel Arnold Aviss, 63, allegedly ran a Ponzi scheme that mostly stole from victims over the age of 60. Federal agents arrested Aviss on June 18. 

Tuesday’s indictment, which charges Aviss with five counts of wire fraud and six counts related to money laundering, alleges the Santa Barbara man ran a scheme from about 2012 through last summer, soliciting funds from individuals who wanted to purchase annuities from insurance companies based in Switzerland. Aviss allegedly claimed the Swiss annuities he offered were safe and secure. In some cases, Aviss allegedly told victims the annuities would pay interest rates ranging from 5 to 7 percent.

Aviss arranged for the victims to receive statements showing the purported value of their annuities. The false documents showed the value was increasing over time, according to the indictment. 

The victims gave Aviss more than $12 million, with most of the money coming from just one victim, according to court documents. Aviss paid back some of the money to keep the scheme running.

Rather than purchasing annuities, Aviss allegedly used the victims’ money for his own purposes and to support his lavish lifestyle. Aviss used victims’ funds on mortgage payments, luxury car leases, expensive watches, trips to Monaco and 20 tickets to a U2 concert and after-party, as well as on $100,000 worth of purchases at a Santa Barbara nightclub, according to court documents. 

For each of the five counts of wire fraud, Aviss faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. Aviss also face a maximum of 20 years for a single count of concealment of money laundering. The Santa Barbara man is charged with five counts of laundering criminal proceeds in excess of $10,000, each of which carries a possible sentence of 10 years.

Aviss is scheduled for an arraignment on July 9. The FBI and IRS are conducting the investigation into Aviss’s alleged Ponzi scheme, and Assistant United States Attorney Monica E. Tait, of the Major Frauds Section, is prosecuting the case. 

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