SEC Says Lawyer ‘Outright Stole’ $9 Million From Clients

LOS ANGELES (CN) — While taking $72 million from them, a Newport Beach attorney “outright stole at least $9.6 million” from Chinese citizens trying to secure EB-5 investor visas, the SEC said in a federal lawsuit Tuesday.

The SEC sued Emilio Francisco, his company PDC Capital Group and a long list of other companies in which he’s involved.

Francisco, a graduate of UC-Irvine, got his law degree from Western State University in 1976. He was disciplined by the state bar in 1994 and his license was suspended in 2012, “for a variety of types of misconduct,” the SEC says in its lengthy complaint. He is an active member of the bar today.

The SEC calls PDC Capital “his marketing firm,” through which Francisco induced foreign investors to put money into 20 other defendant businesses, including Caffe Primo Management (restaurants), assisted living homes and cleaning products.

Under the EB-5 visa program, foreigners can apply for permanent U.S. residence if they invest $500,000 or more in businesses in some defined areas that create U.S. jobs. The program has been widely abused by promoters who take the money and run. Chinese investors are frequent targets. The abuses were so rampant in South Dakota that that state shut down its program.

The SEC says Francisco sent $19.2 million directly to PDC Capital as “administration fees,” though that “exceeded by about $12.65 million the total administration fees paid by investors.”

Of that $12.65 million in diverted money, Francisco “outright stole at least $9.6 million” the SEC said in a statement, and used it “to support his luxury lifestyle including the purchase and maintenance of a yacht,” according to the complaint.

The SEC seeks disgorgement, restitution, penalties and an injunction on four counts of securities fraud and aiding and abetting.

A web page posted in 2009 and still on the internet Wednesday lists Francisco as owner of a Debt Reduction Law Center, and credits his “extensive experience in both litigation and transactional law” with “helping him to establish a network of nationwide partnership and counsel of over 70 attorneys based in most of the fifty states.”

His license was suspended for his work at his Debt Reduction Law Center, according to the California Bar, for “failing to adequately supervise his employee debt analyst,” and “repeatedly fail(ing) to perform legal services with competence in willful violation of Rules of Professional Conduct,” and failing to promptly refund advanced fees “that had not been earned.”

The bar cited multiple acts and/or a pattern of misconduct as aggravating factors: “Respondent’s misconduct involved ten (10) separate client matters and sixteen (16) counts alleging violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct which constitute multiple acts of misconduct.”

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