Federal prosecutors charged three men — two from New Jersey and one from New York — with filing sham victims’ claims totaling $40 million, pretending they were owed money from class-action securities lawsuits, the agencies said Thursday.

Joseph Cammarata, Erik Cohen, and David Punturieri were charged both by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice with running an unusual scam — pretending to represent claimants in securities lawsuits, and filing phony claims for money.

Officials called it a “brazen fraud, deceiving fund administrators to line their pockets with ill-gotten gains,” said Scott A. Thompson, associate regional director of the SEC’s Philadelphia office.

The SEC won a temporary restraining order Friday “to put a stop to this fraud and protect distribution funds and their rightful claimants from further harm” Thompson said, and froze their bank accounts.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania also filed concurrent criminal charges on Wednesday. “These defendants manipulated complicated financial transactions for years in order to steal roughly $40 million,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams in a statement. “Cammarata, Cohen and Punturieri committed fraud on top of fraud, filing claims on behalf of clients that didn’t actually exist and doctoring false financial documents to support those fraudulent claims.”

In 2014, the three men set up Alpha Plus Recovery in Old Bridge, N.J., and made claims on securities lawsuits in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and elsewhere around the country, according to the complaints.

Cammarata, Cohen, and Punturieri concocted false trading data and stole broker-dealer letterhead to “document” purported trades and lend an air of legitimacy to their fake claims.

Their sham claims sought funds from lawsuits against public companies such as Penn West Petroleum, which changed its name to Obsidian Energy Ltd in 2017, American Apparel and BP PLC, the British petroleum company.

They used the $40 million in proceeds to buy jewelry, vacation homes, real estate and upkeep on Cammarata’s personal Caribbean island, according to the complaints.

Cammarata, 47, is listed as a resident of Monmouth Beach, N.J.; Cohen, 40, of Manalapan, N.J.; and Punturieri, 41, of Staten Island, N.Y. Punturieri also used the alias “Paul Delfino” and Cohen used the alias “Eric Knolls” and created fake email accounts and brokerage names to keep the fraud going over seven years, according to the charges. None responded to requests for comment.

Individual investors, hedge funds, and family offices that are owed money in securities class actions or SEC enforcement actions often hire recovery agents to claim the money on their behalf for a fee.

Alpha Plus purported to be one of these “claims aggregators,” and submitted sham claims to fund administrators.

The three were arrested and charged by criminal indictment on charges of conspiracy to commit multiple counts of fraud.

Cammarata is scheduled for a detention hearing in Miami on Monday. He is in custody pending the hearing. The two other defendants are not incarcerated.

CEO of Crypto Miner

Since December 2019, Cammarata has also been chief executive of Investview, a tiny, publicly traded company, which trades for pennies a share on the over-the-counter exchange. The symbol is INVU, and the company said it mines for cryptocurrency as a main source of revenue, according to Nasdaq.

Investview is based in Eatontown, N.J. Calls and emails for comment to the company’s representatives and to Cammarata weren’t returned.

Cammarata has overseas property, connections, and bank accounts. He owns an island in the Caribbean and maintains at least one residence in Colombia, South America, where he purports to conduct business, according to the criminal complaint.

He is a licensed pilot and owns at least two planes and several oceangoing vessels. As recently as October 2021, Cammarata traveled to Colombia, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office confirmed.