Criminal charges have finally been introduced to the MJ Capital Funding ponzi scheme saga. Last week, 29-year-old Pavel Ramon Ruiz Hernandez was charged by federal prosecutors with Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud. According to the allegations, Hernandez helped manage the operations of MJ Capital and oversaw significant fundraising efforts for the company while knowing that the business was a ponzi scheme. All told, it’s alleged that he and his co-conspirators defrauded investors out of $42 million.
MJ Capital Funding pretended to be an MCA provider but did not actually operate an MCA business, nor was the company known within the MCA industry.
Much of the investigations have focused on Johanna M. Garcia, the CEO of the company, but to date she has not been criminally charged.
If Ruiz Hernandez is convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, the DOJ states. The MJ Capital ponzi scheme is reported to have affected over 9,000 investors.
The criminal trial of Brendan Ross, the former alternative lending hedge fund operator accused of wire fraud, has been postponed to October 11, 2022. It had previously been set for July 26. Both sides agreed to the delay. Ross has been out on bond. He has pled not guilty.
Another alleged SBA fraud scheme has met its end after eight defendants were recently charged in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The group netted $7 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and pre-pandemic Small Business Administration loans. Defendants Frank Hamilton, Michael Jones, Tina Chen, Kenny Tran, Tim Park, Peter An, Joseph Greco, and Edwin Bonilla are all California residents.
Specifically for PPP loans, the conspirators allegedly created transactions designed to give the appearance that the funds were being used for payroll. However, the companies had no payroll and no business activities. As part of the scheme, they allegedly created fake bank statements and false tax documents to prove legitimacy. The defendants are being charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
When a funder is unable to resolve a breach of contract with a customer on its own, litigation may seem like the only option left. But there may be an alternative, a process known as arbitration.
“Arbitration is a creature of contract,” said Zachary Meyer, a partner at a law firm. Meyer is also the co-founder and Chief Administrator of RapidRuling, an arbitration forum that has recently experienced an uptick in cases from the small business finance space. An arbitration forum is an alternative to the courthouse, where disputes are adjudicated by an arbitrator instead of a judge. It’s binding. The prevailing party, for example, can take an arbitrator’s award to the Court and turn it into a judgment.
Meyer told deBanked that part of the original vision for RapidRuling was an entirely online system that would prevent one or both parties from having to incur travel costs to participate. The overall cost of arbitration for a respondent in Montana, for example, would go up if they had to pay for a flight to New York City just to appear for it. “It’s beneficial for the [respondent],” Meyer said.
But in 2019 when RapidRuling first launched, the industry was already well accustomed to relying on AAA, the acronym for the American Arbitration Association. AAA, which was founded in 1926, resolved more than 300,000 total cases in 2019 alone. But then, Covid hit.
“It was like a perfect storm,” Meyer said. As the court system ground to a halt and struggled to move online, an all-online arbitration forum like RapidRuling suddenly had significant appeal. Meyer explained that the forum’s low filing fee compared to alternatives also grabbed attention. It understandably took off.
But the path to arbitration, including which forum to rely upon, may all hinge on the original contract itself, which a funding company’s attorney should carefully draft. Copying and pasting a random contract off the internet, for example, carries great risk, Meyer explained, because one may later discover a boilerplate arbitration clause to be limiting or disadvantageous.
RapidRuling’s website describes its arbitration process in four steps:
1. Submit Your Dispute
2. Wait For Opposing Party To Respond
3. Arbitrator Reviews Submissions
4. Receive An Arbitration Award
Contrast that value proposition to litigation, which depending on the circumstances could be drawn out for years.
RapidRuling seeks out arbitrators that are well-qualified, fair-minded, and diverse. “We have a panel of six arbitrators right now,” Meyer said, “and we’re looking to add more.”
The Alternative Finance Bar Association named Proskauer partner David A. Picon the recipient of the AFBA Greg Nowak Impact Award. Picon, who was also the keynote speaker of the AFBA conference, was selected by the association’s members for his all-around efforts for the legal community both on matters of law and outside of it.
Greg Nowak, who passed away suddenly last year, was a partner of Troutman Pepper and a beloved founding member of the AFBA. His wife and son were both present for the heartfelt moment in Nowak’s honor.
Next week’s Alternative Finance Bar Association Conference has already sold out. The exclusive go-to event for industry attorneys takes place on June 15th and 16th in New York City.
Thirteen organizations are sponsoring it, including deBanked. The AFBA provided the attached graphic to showcase who they are:
deBanked plans to have three representatives present. For information and inquiries about the event, please contact Lindsey Rohan at firstname.lastname@example.org. This event is sold out.
It’s déjà vu. Five months after the FTC successfully banned someone from engaging in the MCA business, the agency has secured a similar outcome from additional defendants. This time it’s RCG Advances and its operator that are banned, according to the final settlement announced by the parties. In addition, RCG is required to make an upfront payment of $1.5M to the FTC and refund $1.2M to its previous customers that it had allegedly deceived.
The penalty may appear rather small in the big picture, but it is possibly as strong an outcome as the FTC could’ve hoped to obtain given the odd circumstances that befell the case. For example, the FTC filed its suit against RCG in June 2020 under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act, one of the most common tools in its legal arsenal. Less than a year later, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that despite long-standing precedent, 13(b) did not give the FTC legal authority to obtain monetary relief, which from the FTC’s point of view, defeated the entire purpose of bringing such claims. In light of the ruling, the FTC was forced to change its strategy in the RCG case. In May 2021, the FTC asked the Court if it could amend its lawsuit to state that what the defendants had actually done all along was violate the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. It was perhaps a more difficult path forward.
By January, the first settlement was announced. This RCG settlement now follows that. One defendant in the case has not settled and the proceedings are still ongoing.
The fourth annual Alternative Finance Bar Association conference is BACK IN PERSON. This is the go-to event for and with the industry’s leading attorneys.
Mark your calendars for June 15th and June 16th in New York City and register by emailing Lindsey Rohan at email@example.com. Registration is subject to approval and space availability.
Two-day program includes the following panels:
The State of the Industry: Industry experts discuss pending legislation, case law and market hurdles. They have both a regulatory panel ready to discuss what’s new in Virginia, Utah, NY and California as well as a Courtroom panel ready to discuss the winning and losing case law that has come out in the past year.
Bankruptcy: The aftermath of Chicago v. Fulton, In re Shoot the Moon and other pivotal bankruptcy cases that shape industry practices.
Ethics: Challenges faced by internal counsel and ways to navigate those pressures.
Collections: Trends in the post-COJ, post-COVID era.
Employment/Labor Law: The rise of labor use outside the U.S. What challenges arise from having call centers outside the U.S. Tax implications, oversight and practical benefits/detriments. Post-COVID remote work implications. What you need to be aware of to avoid creating liabilities.
The Art of Arbitration: The importance of a carefully drafted Arbitration Clause and the pro/cons of this venue.
Thinking Ahead: What technologies and market conditions will shape the future of the industry. Broad discussion of Blockchain technology, CRM systems, cannabis and what we can imagine will shape the future of Alternative finance.
WEDNESDAY KEYNOTE: David Picon, Esq. – It is with great pride that David Picon of Proskauer Rose will be the Keynote speaker. For years the AFBA has admired his work from afar. Attendees now have an opportunity to learn directly from David what makes for an unstoppable litigator.
THURSDAY SPECIAL EVENT: AFBA Game Show Mash-Up with the Industry’s Legendary Attorneys. Special Guests you will not want to miss!
- Andrew Smith, Covington & Burlington LLP
- Brian Simon, Hollis Public Affairs
- Jamie Polon, Mavrides Moyal Packman & Sadkin, LLP
- Patrick Siegfried, Rapid Finance
- Natalie Pappas, Rapid Finance
- Keith Ellis, Expansion Capital Group
- Kate Fisher, Hudson Cook LLP
- Cathy Brennan, Hudson Cook LLP
- Blake Sims, Hudson Cook LLP
- Steve Denis, Small Business Finance Association
- Christopher R. Murray, Murray Legal PLLC
- Mark Stout, Padfield & Stout
- Shanna Kaminski, Kaminski Law Group
- Michael W. Davis, DTO Law
- John Viskocil, Fora Financial
- Gabriel Mendelberg, Mendelberg P.C.
- Anthony F. Giuliano, Giuliano Law P.C.
- Jeffrey S. Cianciulli, Weir Greenblatt Pierce LLP
- David Picon, Proskauer Rose
- Jonathan Nelson, Dedicated Financial GBC
- Lindsey Rohan, BasePoint Capital LLC
- Christina Grigorian, Katten; Zach Miller, Burr & Foreman
- Renata Buhkman, Delta Bridge Funding
- Vanessa Petty, Settle
- Alexis Shapiro, Forward Financing
- Jan Owens, Manatt Phelps
- Scott Pearson, Manatt Phelps
- Jesse Michael Carlson, Kapitus
- Robert Zadek, Buchalter
Day 1 – June 15
9:00am – 4:30pm: Offices of Proskauer Rose (includes light breakfast and lunch)
5:30pm – 7:30pm: Cocktails at Dear Irving
Day 2 – June 16
9:30am – 6:00pm: 15 W. 38th Street, 2nd Fl, Sinatra Room (includes light breakfast and lunch)
4:00pm: Wine & Cheese
Register soon, SPACE IS LIMITED!
deBanked is a sponsor of the event. Industry attorneys are highly encouraged to attend.