Story Series: Direct Lending Investments
Those affected by the failure of Direct Lending Investments (DLI) have added a new target to blame, Deloitte & Touche LLP and related entities.
A lawsuit filed last week in the Superior Court of California says that Deloitte was engaged by DLI to audit the Funds’ financial statements and accompanying footnotes in accordance with GAAP for the years ending 2016 – 2018 and issued clean unqualified audit reports that “negligently ratified and confirmed the false valuations contained in the financial statements and footnotes disseminated to the Plaintiffs.”
When Direct Lending Investments (DLI), one of the largest online lending hedge funds, went bust, many were surprised to learn that the fund had discreetly gambled heavily in the international telecom market.
At present, a company called VOIP Guardian Partners I owes DLI $203 million. There’s a problem with recovery in that VOIP declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy this past March with little hope to repay because it itself re-loaned out DLI’s funds to telecom companies around the world and were supposedly never paid back.
VOIP is wholly owned by an individual named Rodney Omanoff, a former Hollywood talent agent. There is currently a criminal investigation into Omanoff for money laundering and “other criminal claims,” DLI’s receiver stated in a recent October report. Tens of millions of dollars potentially recoverable by DLI from VOIP are currently in the custody of The Netherlands while the investigation is being conducted.
Meanwhile, deBanked previously determined that VOIP had made bad loans of $158 million to companies purportedly in Hong Kong and United Arab Emirates, funds that came from DLI. The websites for both companies, Telacme Ltd. and Najd Technologies, Ltd, have gone offline.
The bizarre telecom investments in what was perceived to be a hedge fund focused almost entirely on the US online lending market, are not alone. DLI recently revealed that it also loaned millions to a company that put up the mineral rights for 6 oil and gas wells as collateral. It also loaned more than $25 million against a distressed commercial real estate property and a note backed by a VC investment in a cloud-based billing service company.
DLI’s receiver is not confident that it will collect the par amount of receivables on its books.
“Without providing individualized loan/portfolio assessments, the Receiver’s general assessment as of the date of this Report is that recoveries on the remaining loan/investment portfolio are likely to be far less than the $672.5 million in par value stated on the receivership books and records as of September 30, 2019. In fact, in connection with the filing of the 2018 tax returns the Receiver recorded a write down for tax purposes in the approximate amount of 40% of the par value of assets at December 31, 2018.”
Separately, the receiver wrote that most of DLI’s outstanding loan and investment portfolios are in “some form of financial distress or subject to disputes that may affect the timing and extent of recoveries on those portfolios.” It has attempted to keep the identity of those investments confidential so as not to cause any outside interference in those companies’ ability to repay.
Without admitting or denying the allegations of the complaint, Direct Lending Investments, a defunct online lending hedge fund, consented to judgment by the SEC on Tuesday. They will be required to pay a disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, prejudgment interest, and a civil penalty that has yet to be determined.
The Receiver for Direct Lending Investments is racing against the clock to protect and preserve the assets of the Cayman Islands-based vehicle used to receive foreign investments, US court records show. The commencement of a voluntary liquidation of the Cayman-entity is required before the deadline to preserve avoidance claims for over $4 million passes. A liquidation, which the Receiver can’t facilitate without permission from the Court, would also shield the company from any litigation moving forward by imposing an automatic stay.
In a normal situation, the Receiver informed the Court, the liquidation process would be carried out by the directors of the Cayman-based entity, but the only remaining director resigned on May 1st, leaving the company without any leadership whatsoever. Thus, the Receiver appointed in the US is asking for extraordinary relief to assist in the affairs of the Cayman entity and enter into liquidation to best protect its assets.
The Receiver’s concerns over litigation in the Cayman Islands are heightened because he’s reportedly received detailed inquiries from overseas investors wanting to know what’s going on and at this time, he’s not able to confidently answer them.
Given the relief sought and the ex-parte nature of the request, the US court is expected to issue an order on the matter very soon.
Update: The US court approved the Receiver to commence a voluntary liquidation of the Cayman entity
Documents filed in a New York Supreme Court case by the receiver managing Direct Lending Investments (DLI), revealed that DLI had more than 950 investors worldwide with collective investments on the books totaling over $780 million.
For those wondering what’s happened since word of the hedge fund’s shocking demise, Bradley D. Sharp of Development Specialists, Inc. has been appointed to serve as permanent receiver for the fund’s estate. In the New York Supreme Court case, which coincidentally involves VOIP Guardian Partners, Sharp explained that they are currently dealing with a number of “urgent matters arising during the first two weeks of the SEC Action, including but not limited to: securing the business assets and cash of the receivership estate; taking custody of records of the Receivership Entity, including records held by third parties; filing notices of the receivership in approximately 50 district courts across the country; addressing insurance and loan portfolio matters; providing notice to and responding to inquiries from investors; and other similar pressing matters.”
Regarding the $192 million owed to DLI by VOIP, “the Receiver is evaluating enforcement and collection of the VOIP Guardian Loans as against VOIP Guardian Partners I LLC in light of its pending bankruptcy proceeding, and the underlying loans comprising the collateral for the VOIP Guardian Loans.”
Recovering the $192 million in bankruptcy from VOIP may prove difficult. deBanked determined that $159 million of it was actually loaned by VOIP to other companies internationally, including Telacme Ltd in Hong Kong and Najd Technologies Ltd in United Arab Emirates. At the time of its reporting, the websites for both companies had been taken down from the web. The website for Telacme has since been restored.
A class action lawsuit was filed against DLI, its former chief executive Brendan Ross, and others on April 1st.
A class action lawsuit has been filed in California against Direct Lending Investments, LLC (DLI), Brendan Ross, Bryce Mason, Frank Turner, Rodney Omanoff, and Quarterspot Inc. alleging breach of contract, breaches of fiduciary duty, aiding and abetting breaches of fiduciary duty, and fraudulent inducement.
The claims are drawn from a series of revelations that have come out about the online lending hedge fund, namely that the fund lost nearly 25% of its value through a failed loan to VOIP Guardian Partners I (VOIP) and an SEC complaint that alleged DLI engaged in a scheme to misrepresent performance with the help of an online lender it invested in.
Plaintiffs point out many issues with the VOIP deal but hone in on the fact that the company engaged in risky behavior by taking DLI’s funds and lending out more than 75% of them to just two companies, Najd Technologies Ltd and Telacme Ltd. deBanked previously determined these now-defunct companies were headquartered in the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong. Documents obtained through VOIP’s bankruptcy filing indicate that both companies ceased making payments in October 2018. Despite this, DLI continued to report to investors that they were achieving very favorable monthly returns, the plaintiffs say, and no mention of VOIP’s distress was disclosed.
Bryce Mason and Frank Turner were named as defendants because they sat on DLI’s investment committee with Ross.
The plaintiffs are investment vehicles for a husband and wife that DLI last reported had a combined value of $758,000. They seek class action certification. They had only just begun investing with DLI last year.
On Monday, a judge in the SEC lawsuit ordered that DLI be placed in receivership. Bradley D. Sharp of Development Specialists, Inc. has been appointed to serve as permanent receiver for the fund’s estate.
When Bloomberg News reported that Direct Lending Investments (DLI) had lost approximately 25% of its portfolio value from a deal gone bad, some were surprised to learn that it had nothing to do with its core competency of online lending. VOIP Guardian Partners I, which stuck DLI with more than $190 million in unpaid loans, was in the business of lending money to smaller telecoms against their accounts receivables, Bloomberg News reported. VOIP was then supposed to be repaid the money when larger telecom companies paid the smaller ones.
On March 11, VOIP filed for Chapter 7, and limited details behind these telecom borrowers became public.
VOIP’s largest loan default was to a Hong Kong-based company formed in 2015 named Telacme, Ltd. Records indicate that $1 billion overall had been loaned to Telacme through 30-day rolling advances but that they stopped making payments in October 2018, leaving a remaining balance to VOIP and in turn to DLI, of $101.1 million. Telacme’s official website no longer exists and only a holding page by Godaddy indicating that the page has been parked free remains. (Update 4/16/19 – The website has been restored)
The second largest default at $58 million was to a company named Najd Technologies, Ltd, headquartered in the United Arab Emirates. Like Telacme, Najd stopped paying in October 2018 and their website is also no longer accessible. Internet archives show it advertised itself as a global telecom company based in Bangkok, Thailand.
The other remaining telecom loan issues spanned companies all across Europe.
A lawsuit filed against DLI in 2017 complained that DLI falsely represented to investors that it typically made loans that ranged between $5,000 and $100,000 when in fact DLI had been financing multi-million dollar telecom deals as far back as 2014. The plaintiffs went so far as to claim that at one point up to 50% of DLI’s portfolio was invested in telecom receivables.
But the claims were removed in a subsequent amended version of the lawsuit after the judge ordered them stricken because the plaintiffs themselves were not aggrieved investors, but instead unhappy former business partners alleging violations of a non-compete.
“I don’t understand why it’s in the complaint,” the judge said. “Particularly, when [DLI] says it is impacting their ability to raise money.”
The decision was prescient as DLI would not only go on to raise more money but also lose more than $190 million of investor money in telecom deals that weren’t overtly advertised.
A March 2017 DLI investor presentation obtained by deBanked touts its focus on underserved Main Street USA businesses. There is no mention of international telecom lending, nor any plans to finance telecom businesses for hundreds of millions of dollars, let alone do so in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe.
In VOIP’s bankruptcy filing, DLI is the primary secured creditor. DLI’s chief executive recently resigned and the fund has been sued by the Securities & Exchange Commission for issues unrelated to VOIP and is being placed under receivership.
The 2017 lawsuit against DLI and VOIP can be found under Index #650973/2017 In the New York Supreme Court.
Update: DLI has agreed to the appointment of a receiver to marshal and preserve the assets of Direct Lending and the funds. The SEC has also published a press release on the matter.
One of the biggest online lending hedge funds has been accused of fraud by the SEC. On Friday, the SEC sued Direct Lending Investments (DLI) with perpetrating a multi-year fraud that misrepresented the value of loans in a segment of its portfolio.
A DLI employee told the SEC that CEO Brendan Ross helped engineer loans to be valued at par when they should’ve been valued at zero. Emails between Ross and the online loan platform suggest that this was intentional, the SEC argued. The effect of this was that between 2014 and 2017, DLI overstated the valuation of one of its loan portfolio positions by approximately $53 million and misrepresented the fund’s performance by about 2-3% annually.
The SEC seeks a preliminary injunction and appointment of a permanent receiver; permanent injunctions; disgorgement with prejudgment interest, and civil penalties.
Below: DLI’s stated monthly returns 2013-2016
A 2017 DLI investor presentation touted “double-digit returns with no down months since inception” and a portfolio that has “exhibited little volatility.”
Direct Lending Fund CEO Brendan Ross, has resigned, according to Bloomberg News and numerous individuals identifying themselves as investors on an industry blog. The fund not only lost nearly 25% of its portfolio in a single sour investment, but it’s reported that they may have overvalued its investments in QuarterSpot’s small business loan platform.
The fund was reputed as one of the largest funds in the online lending industry and one that “historically earned investors unlevered double digit returns” by investing in online loan marketplaces.
Were there signs of problems?
In a tell-all book published by DealStruck founder Ethan Senturia in late 2017, Senturia describes how Ross’s fund had been overly dependent on his company’s success. “I am like, literally staring over the edge. My life is over,” Senturia quotes Ross as saying in Unwound when he became aware of DealStruck’s downward spiral*. Despite this characterization, Ross’s fund continued to grow relatively unscathed.
Meanwhile, James R. (“Jim”) Hedges, IV wrote an op-ed in Mid-2017 on Lend Academy of a mystery fund he refused to identify that had a Bernie Madoff-feel to it. In the comments, users point out that the monthly returns matched the ones on Direct Lending’s investor letters.
“When I first saw these returns, I instinctively thought of Madoff,” Hedges wrote. “The narrow band of returns is, in my experience, highly unusual and inconsistent with the returns of investments being marked-to-market. To be clear, I am not saying that this fund is a fraud. I am stating that the performance they’ve reported is, in my experience, unlikely indicative of a valuation methodology that accurately reflects the month-to-month performance of the underlying assets.”
*DealStruck announced a restructuring in December 2018