ATHENS, Ga. (CN) — A recent University of Georgia graduate is in hot water with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which accuses him of running a Ponzi scheme out of a frat house near campus.
The SEC sued Syed Arham Arbab, 22, claiming he defrauded at least eight people, including fellow UGA students and their family members, out of more than $269,000. The civil fraud complaint was filed Friday in Athens federal court and formally announced Monday.
Acting individually and through two business entities and operating out of a fraternity house near the University of Georgia campus in Athens, Arbab offered and sold investments in Artis Proficio Capital, a hedge fund he claimed to manage and which he guaranteed would generate extremely high rates of return for investors, according to the lawsuit.
Arbab allegedly told his victims that he had an undergraduate degree and was working on a master’s degree in business administration from UGA.
The SEC’s complaint states that Arbab also sold bond agreements, which function like promissory notes and promise investors the return of their investment along with a fixed rate of return.
In text messages and emails to investors and potential investors, Arbab allegedly said his firm is “different” because it targets “young investors/college kids” and charges lower commissions.
But the SEC claims the hedge fund didn’t exist and Arbab was never enrolled in the MBA program. He graduated from UGA last month with an undergraduate degree in cellular biology and genetics.
Arbab placed most of the investors’ money into his personal bank and brokerage accounts, according to the lawsuit, and used it for living expenses, Uber rides, bar and liquor store purchases, and multiple gambling trips to Las Vegas.
The complaint alleges he lost more than $300,000 out of his personal brokerage account by engaging in “unprofitable options trading” between September and March, and the account had a balance of only $350 when it was closed.
According to the SEC, Arbab “used the balance of the funds he obtained to make Ponzi payments to prior investors, paying investors seeking to withdraw some or all of their investment using money received from subsequent investors.”
Arbab allegedly even “fooled investors into unwittingly sending Ponzi payments directly to other investors” through the use of phone apps like Zelle, Venmo or Cash App by describing the recipient as a partner or manager of the fund.
The SEC claims Arbab continued to solicit money from investors even after becoming aware of its investigation.
Richard Best, regional director of the SEC’s Atlanta office, said in a statement Monday that Arbab “used his college affiliations to operate a Ponzi scheme that drained valuable resources from current and former students.”
“This is a reminder that investors of all ages and experience levels—whether long-time investors or recent graduates investing funds from their first few paychecks—should carefully research investment opportunities and the people offering them,” Best said.
On Tuesday, Chief U.S. District Judge Clay Land granted the SEC’s request for an emergency order restraining Arbab from continuing the scheme and freezing his assets.
Arbab did not immediately respond to a request for comment.