Forget Edison, Franklin, even Steve Jobs. If there's one innovator we truly love and respect here in South Florida and the Caribbean, it's Charles Ponzi.
The guy, let's face it, invented pretty much the best scheme ever. Why do complicated stuff like "invest money" when you can just take it and pretend you're investing it? That way, you can spend the cash on whatever you want!
We're the region that bought Bernie Madoff big-time and propped up Sir Allen Stanford in all his glory. Since those two fell hard, smaller Ponzis have been trickling out of the Caribbean like the latest reggaeton stars.
Today comes the latest, out of the lovely St. Vincent and the Grenadines, about 1,500 miles south of Miami at the southern tip of the Lesser Antilles. The SEC this week charged the St. Vincent-based Millennium Bank and its American owners with running a $86 million Ponzi based on fake certificates of deposit.
If that sounds familiar, it's exactly the same setup the feds have accused Allen Standord of running out of Miami and Houston (except he was a bit more ambitious, racking up $8 billion in fake CDs before his bust last month).
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According to the SEC's complaint, filed in federal court in Texas, Millennium Bank and its Swiss affiliate sold millions in CDs, which are like savings accounts held for a fixed period of time.
But instead of investing the cash, the bank's owners -- William Wise, age 58, and Kristi Hoegel, age 34 -- used the money to pay off old investors and have a grand ol' time on their own. The pair even ran a hilariously inept ad attempting to deflect concerns about their bank in the latest issues of snobby rich-guy magazines The Wealth Collection and Haute Living.
"To most people, [our] rates appear to be high, leading many to suspect that something is not right," the ad says. "That is a natural human reaction. But nothing could be further from the truth. Millennium Bank has been in business for eight years and is presently one of the most successful private banks in the Caribbean."
Now, we're no wealth management experts, and we certainly don't have any back issues of Haute Living lying around Riptide Central, but we're going to go out on a limb at this point and offer some advice: It's time to stay away from small offshore Caribbean banks with amazing returns. Your money is better off with that Nigerian prince who just emailed again.