SEC charges Houston trader in alleged fraud case

Targeted Houston-area Lebanese and Druze communities

Magnifying glass, fraud Magnifying glass, fraud

The following is from the SEC...

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a day trader in Sugar Land, Texas, with defrauding investors in his supposed high-frequency trading program and providing them falsified brokerage records that drastically overstated assets and hid his massive trading losses.

The SEC alleges that Firas Hamdan particularly targeted fellow members of the Houston-area Lebanese and Druze communities, raising more than $6 million during a five-year period from at least 33 investors. Hamdan told prospective investors that he would pool their investments with his own money and conduct high-frequency trading using a supposed proprietary trading algorithm. Hamdan promised annual returns of 30 percent and assured investors that his program was safe and proven when in reality it was a dismal failure, generating $1.5 million in losses. As he failed to deliver the promised profits, Hamdan told investors that his funds were tied up in the Greek debt crisis and the MF Global bankruptcy among other phony excuses.

The SEC is seeking an emergency court order to halt the scheme and freeze Hamdan’s assets and those of his firm, FAH Capital Partners.

“Hamdan’s affinity scam preyed upon people’s tendency to trust those who share common backgrounds and beliefs,” said David R. Woodcock, Director of the SEC’s Fort Worth Regional Office. “Hamdan raised money by creating the aura of a successful day trader among friends and family in his community, and he continued to mislead them and hide the truth while trading losses mounted.”

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Houston, Hamdan is well-known in the Lebanese and Druze communities in the Houston area and is a former treasurer of the Houston branch of the American Druze Society. Hamdan found investors for his trading program by talking with his friends and family in these communities. As word spread about his purported trading success, he asked existing investors to solicit their friends for investments.

The SEC alleges that Hamdan misrepresented to investors that he generated positive returns in 59 of 60 months between 2007 and 2012. He showed them phony documentation to support his false claims. For instance, a purported brokerage statement he provided investors for the first quarter of 2010 showed an opening balance of more than $2.3 million with quarterly trading gains of $2.7 million for a closing balance above $5.1 million. An actual brokerage statement obtained by SEC investigators for Hamdan’s account during that same period shows the opening balance at just $27,970.76 and the closing balance at $148,210.02, with quarterly trading losses of $7,452.80.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Hamdan made several other false claims to potential investors. For instance, he lied about the existence of a cash reserve account that secured their investments. Hamdan falsely stated that investments were further secured by a $5 million “key-man” insurance policy. He also falsely claimed that a well-known hedge fund manager in the Dallas area made a million-dollar investment with him and promised to invest more based on Hamdan’s continuing success.

The SEC’s complaint alleges that Hamdan violated the antifraud provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The complaint seeks various relief including a temporary restraining order, preliminary and permanent injunctions, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains with prejudgment interest, and financial penalties.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Jonathan Scott, Timothy Evans, and Mark Pittman of the Fort Worth Regional Office. Bret Helmer will lead the SEC’s litigation. Investors affected by this scheme who have questions can contact the Fort Worth office investigative staff at dfw@sec.gov.

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