The alleged architect of a $68 million Philadelphia-based investment scam was charged Tuesday by a federal grand jury in a complaint that detailed how the onetime accountant turned a supposedly successful hedge fund into a giant Ponzi scheme.
Brenda Smith, 59, was arrested last August at her Rittenhouse Square apartment after collecting more than $68 million from investors and then spending it on obscure projects, credit cards, and personal expenses from December 2016 to June 2019.
After working as an accountant, Smith set up a hedge fund called Broad Reach Capital and sought money from about 40 investors. At its peak, however, the value of cash and securities in the Broad Reach Capital bank and brokerage accounts was no more than $32 million, according to U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito in the Newark, N.J., office.
Smith on Tuesday was indicted in Newark on six counts of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud. She was initially charged by federal agents in August 2019.
Her federal defender did not return calls requesting comment.
Federal prosecutors allege that Smith transferred tens of millions of dollars out of Broad Reach Capital to entities she controlled, including more than $10 million to a mineral mining operation and $2 million for American Express credit card bills.
She claimed returns as high as 33% when, in fact, her fund was consistently losing money, according to the charges. When investors asked for their money back, Smith diverted other victims’ funds to pay the requested redemptions, in what prosecutors say was a classic Ponzi scheme.
She also allegedly provided monthly statements to investors “that falsely showed that their investments were safe and earning significant returns.”
The wire fraud counts against Smith carry a maximum penalty of 20 years and a $250,000 fine. The securities fraud count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s office in Philadelphia previously filed a civil complaint against Smith, according to director Kelly Gibson.
Smith remains in federal custody at the Essex County Jail in northern New Jersey.
The SEC in May appointed Kevin Kent of the Philadelphia law firm Conrad O’Brien as receiver over Broad Reach and other related entities to take control of any assets, and protect the value of the estate for injured investors and other claimants.
The receiver will be paid $510 an hour to handle the case. The lead accountant named to examine the assets will receive $550 an hour, according to court documents.
Covered by the receivership are 20 different business entities, including Broad Reach, Bristol Advisors, and CV Brokerage.
Seized assets once held by Smith include her Rittenhouse Square penthouse apartment, several properties in Louisiana, the mining company, space in a computer server farm, the contents of her Conshohocken offices, her ownership stakes in Lyft Inc. and Palantir Technologies, and whatever cryptocurrencies she may have possessed.