LOS ANGELES (CN) - A San Fernando Valley pastor masterminded a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme that targeted Latinos, federal prosecutors say.
Luis Alonso Serna, 61, of Chatsworth, bilked more than 70 investors of nearly $4 million, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Thursday.
A federal grand jury indicted him after an investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the FBI.
Serna is owner of Architects of the Future Investments, the foreign investment company he allegedly used to defraud investors.
Masquerading as a successful investor in foreign currencies, Serna, the pastor of Zion Living Word Christian Center in San Fernando, promised monthly returns of up 20 percent, according to the indictment.
Serna placed liens on his victims' properties; some lost their homes and others had to declare bankruptcy, prosecutors said.
"The Ponzi scheme is a century-old concept, but it remains a clear and present danger to the investing public," U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. said in a statement. "Cases like the one against Mr. Serna demonstrate the accuracy of the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is."
Serna faces two counts of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud and two counts of money laundering.
Calling Serna's case "another sad example of greed overcoming honest business practices," postal official Bernard Ferguson warned investors to tread with caution and always "verify information, especially if there are claims of outperforming the market."
If convicted, Serna could face up to 30 years in jail.
Serna was scheduled for arraignment Thursday afternoon in Federal Court.
Foreign exchange trading is a frequent basis for scams. It is extremely difficult to turn profits on forex exchanges, and profits that are made are generally incremental, based on the tiny daily adjustments in currencies, as the dollar slips a penny against the euro, for example. Claims of double-digit returns in forex trading are almost certainly false.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.