The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act (“Telemarketing Act”), has recently announced that it seeks law-enforcement action against a residential resort development in Belize, calling it “the largest-ever overseas real-estate investment scam” the agency has ever seen.
At a recent press conference in Washington, D.C., the agency said the development known by names that include Sanctuary Bay, Sanctuary Belize, Buy Belize, Buy International, and Buy Paradise, fleeced 1,000 American investors, out of more than $100 million.
Scheme Video: Belize Real Estate - Belize Property - Belize Homes - Buy Belize
According to court documents filed by the FTC in the US District Court of Maryland, 24 individuals and shell companies falsely claimed to be constructing a luxurious resort community that would feature a hospital, hotels, a golf course, a spa, a casino, high-end boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and an “American-style” supermarket.
Video: American National Sues Over "Sanctuary Belize" Multimillion-Dollar Scam
The agency said investors were fooled into believing the lots, which sold for between $150,000 and $500,000 each, would dramatically increase in value.
Scheme Video: Sanctuary Belize Real Estate
On page three of the court document, it said defendants sold "lots primarily to Americans looking to retire abroad or seeking investment opportunities. They target small business owners and couples nearing retirement. Among other things, they claim the lots are low-risk investments that consumers can resell easily and enjoy 200%-300% appreciation."
The Wall Street Journal has been following the developments of the scheme for more than a year.
More than ten years after sales started, the FTC said most of the Manhattan-sized development is still unfinished. Only twelve homes and part of the marina have been completed, many of which are occupied by people with close ties to the development
The FTC said investors were supposed to hire a builder to construct their Central American home, but many did not, because they saw the overall property was not fully developed and there was no real estate market for the lots.
As a decade went by, investors started to panic and sold their lots back to the developers at a giant loss, while many stopped making payments.
Some investors even tried to unload the lots themselves but found a developer-tied brokerage did not operate in “good faith,” and local real estate agents refused to touch any lots in the development.
The FTC has frozen the assets of the defendants and will seek to recoup money lost in the real estate scheme. James Kohm, associate director of the agency’s enforcement division, declined to say whether the case would be referred to law enforcement so that criminal charges can be pursued, but said that is the usual process in “cases of hardcore fraud," said The Wall Street Journal.
As the global credit cycle rolls over, more and more fraudulent schemes will come out of the woodwork.
Just last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice uncovered the largest-ever Ponzi scheme in Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, totaling $345 million.