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Feds: Evangelical Christians stung by Ponzi scheme

/ Source: The Associated Press

A man has been accused of defrauding investors of more than $2.3 million through a Ponzi scheme targeting unsuspecting factory workers and evangelical Christians, .

The Securities and Exchange Commission said Ricardo Bonilla Rojas, from Puerto Rico, raised $7 million from as many as 200 investors, the majority of them in Puerto Rico and others in Florida, New York and North Carolina.

The alleged scheme is one of the largest uncovered in the U.S. territory, said Eric Bustillo, director of the SEC's Miami regional office.

The SEC said Bonilla marketed his company, Shadai Yire, in conversations with people including factory workers and in presentations to evangelical Christian groups, promising returns of up to 50 percent.

"In reality, he was fleecing the flock," Bustillo said.

Bonilla pleaded not guilty at a court hearing Tuesday morning and was released on $130,000 bail, with a judge ordering him to home confinement.

The SEC accused Bonilla of stealing $700,000 for himself while running the alleged scheme from August 2005 to February 2009. Other funds were paid to people who promoted his company. In the complaint, the SEC said Bonilla, 53, never registered with the commission and that he marketed his company as an international enterprise involved in global private investments.

U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez said that Bonilla solicited money supposedly for the purchase and sale of commodities including crude oil, grains, woods and metals from China and countries in Europe and South America.

Bustillo said Bonilla targeted mostly novice investors and that the amounts invested varied.

Bonilla is also accused of hiring sales agents to find investors and of sending them false account statements, Bustillo said.

Investors lost a total of more than $2.3 million, Rodriguez said.

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