Investors who bet $5 million on an anti-drug addiction app that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission says was a scam may get part of their money back under a court-ordered plan approved by Philadelphia-based federal Judge Paul Diamond.
Sixty-one people, many of them Philadelphia-area residents who attended free luncheon and dinner sales meetings in King of Prussia in late summer 2018, invested in Fallcatcher Inc., a Florida company started by Henry O. Ford.
Ford told them that insurers and government agencies were actively discussing Fallcatcher’s plans to use smartphone-tracked biometric devices to monitor opioid addicts.
But in a complaint last year, the SEC called Fallcatcher’s claims “fraudulent” and also noted that Ford had previously been convicted of mortgage fraud under another name, Cleothus Lefty Jackson.
Diamond’s District Court order, dated Nov. 12, sets up a “Fair Fund” to return Fallcatcher’s remaining money and additional sums to investors, administered by national accounting firm Miller Kaplan Arase LLP. According to a court-approved distribution plan, it has so far collected nearly half of what investors put into Fallcatcher, for future distribution.
The fund is authorized to collect:
— $2,395,000 from Fallcatcher bank and investment accounts, under a February court order. So far, $2,268,000 of that total has been collected.
— $539,000 to be paid by Ford, also from the February court order. So far, he has paid $4,100.
— $599,000 to be paid by Dean Vagnozzi, a King of Prussia insurance broker who, with his firm A Better Financial Plan, helped Fallcatcher find most of its investors.
Vagnozzi agreed to give up the money, including his Fallcatcher sales commission, under a July 14 SEC consent order. So far, he hasn’t paid any of the money, according to the distribution plan filed earlier this month.
Vagnozzi’s firm is currently under a court-ordered receivership that has frozen payments. That receivership was requested by the SEC as part of its separate July 28 lawsuit against Philadelphia-based small-business lender Par Funding, its owners, and Vagnozzi and other salesmen who persuaded customers to buy Par investments. The SEC acted after Par defaulted on interest and principal payments. Lawyers for Vagnozzi and other defendants have denied wrongdoing, and argued it is the receivership that has stalled payments to investors. That case is scheduled for mediation this winter.
While the Par case grinds on, Vagnozzi last month persuaded the court in Florida to release funds held for a group of non-Par investors. But the court order does not mention the money pledged to Fallcatcher. Vagnozzi and his lawyers have not responded to inquiries about when that money might be paid.
A Fallcatcher investor is among the 55 Vagnozzi customers who sued him and his longtime lawyer, John Pauciulo, in federal court in Philadelphia earlier this month alleging fraud and seeking class-action status under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The investor, Thomas Green, a Camden County resident, says he used part of his retirement funds to buy $100,000 worth of Fallcatcher shares, not realizing that Ford used a “fabricated” letter from an insurance company and other fraudulent claims to make it look as if the firm were close to testing its system.
Vagnozzi has said he was unaware of fraud at Fallcatcher when he discussed the company with investors.
Philadelphia lawyer Alan Fellheimer, who defended Ford from the SEC complaint, said in an email he stopped representing the Fallcatcher founder because he wasn’t getting paid. According to his July court filing asking to withdraw from the case, Ford owes Fellheimer’s office $59,000.
In Ford’s reply to Fellheimer’s request, filed Aug. 4, he praised the lawyer’s “noble efforts,” but defied the federal government and denounced the case against him.
Despite his agreement last winter to pay back investors, Ford, writing in his own defense, complained that the SEC’s claim “was devoid of any evidence of misuse of the investor funds.” He also complained that the court had frozen his personal credit cards so he couldn’t pay rent or day care, and denied his appeal for access to his accounts on hardship grounds.
Ford also wrote that he “doesn’t want or need any legal representation” because he now doubts any legal defense will "make any difference what so ever,” adding that he considered the seizure of Fallcatcher funds for repayment to investors to be “investment theft.” And he called the case “an Ego based persecution of a black man who only wanted the best for his Country and the people who live in it.”
Reached by phone through a New York number posted on the website of his current company, Ambrics Consolidated Mineral Fund, which says it conducts international trade among businesses in the U.S., Asia and Africa, Ford denied wrongdoing but said he doesn’t oppose the government “giving investors back their money," adding he still believes it ”never should have been confiscated" because he could have made Fallcatcher work.
Ambrics claims outposts in New York, the U.K., Hong Kong, and the West African nations of Guinea and Ghana. Ford said the phone call had been forwarded to him at his new base in a city in “Mainland China" that he would not identify.