Daniel Sebastian Brings Ponzi Scheming to Creepy Disney Utopia Celebration, Florida

Turns out idyllic Main Streets don't keep out Ponzi schemers.
Turns out idyllic Main Streets don't keep out Ponzi schemers.
photo by Bobak Ha'Eri via Wikimedia Commons

Last December, the Disney-planned utopia of Celebration, Florida -- a Rockwellian copy of small-town Americana, complete with calming elevator music piped around town -- made headlines for its first murder and, days later, its first hours-long police standoff ending in suicide. Now, courtesy of a broker named Daniel Sebastian, Celebration has its very first multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

What's next? Hookers wandering down Honeysuckle Avenue? Crack houses on Mulberry Lane?


It's almost as if Mickey Mouse can't keep the evils of Florida at bay with his quaint architecture and award-winning golf courses!

In fact, Sebastian and his partner, a convicted felon named James Risher, used those very golf courses and convention centers to lure their victims, the SEC says, to the tune of more than $22 million.

Sebastian, a longtime insurance broker based in Celebration, started a fake investment firm in 2006 called Safe Harbor, according to SEC filings. His partner in the enterprise would have set off investors' warning bells if they'd bothered to do some Googling.

Risher, who lived in Sanibel, had pleaded guilty in 1990 to 20 counts of theft in Georgia and served a suspended ten-year sentence; then, in 1996, he got popped again for mail fraud, securities fraud, and money laundering, earning another 92 months in the slammer.

The pair must have made a convincing team, though. By promising retirees around Orlando and the Atlantic coast returns during "both bull and bear markets," the men began banking millions.

Unfortunately, investigators say, that cash went into their pockets and not into real investments. Risher paid himself $4.8 million, which he blew on "jewelry, gifts,... property in North Carolina and Florida" and credit cards, the feds say.

Sebastian got $3.3 million in ill-earned payouts.

All along, the company wasn't regulated or registered, and the newsletters sent to investors and propped up at company meetings at Orlando resorts were totally fabricated, the SEC says.

In Orlando's federal court, both men face five counts of fraud and one charge of selling unregistered securities.

Celebration, meanwhile, can check another seamy felony off its list of crimes that have infiltrated Disney's perfect suburb.

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