In the only Par Funding trial, SEC wins civil suit against Florida financial adviser
Unlike others sued by the SEC in the Par Funding case, Florida financial adviser Michael Furman decided to fight in court. He lost.
The only businessperson who chose to go to civil trial in the Par Funding financial scandal has been found liable by a jury of defrauding investors and must join all the defendants in disgorging ill-gotten profits.
After only four hours of deliberation Wednesday, the six-member jury unanimously ruled against Florida financial adviser Michael C. Furman, 39, on six fraud counts in a civil case brought against him by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Furman, who the SEC said raised money for Par Funding, was also found liable on a seventh count for selling an unregistered security.
Furman will now join the founders of Par Funding and well-known King of Prussia financial salesman Dean Vagnozzi and other defendants in having to pay back millions to 1,200 investors who put nearly $500 million into lender Par Funding.
Soon, U.S. District Court Judge Rodolfo Ruiz III, sitting in Fort Lauderdale, will decide how much precisely each defendant will have to pay in investors’ money, interest, and fines. Ruiz should carve up the money in March.
The other defendants agreed late last month to drop their opposition to the SEC lawsuit and go right to the computation of how much they will have to pay.
In a sweeping lawsuit brought in 2020, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said Par Funding, Vagnozzi, Furman, and other defendants hid the fact that one of the lending firm’s founders, Joseph W. LaForte, had served prison time for past financial crimes.
SEC trial counsel Amie Riggle Berlin said they also misled investors about Par Funding’ reckless lending, high defaults on the money it lent, lack of business insurance, and history of regulatory troubles and fines. The firm loaned money to smaller businesses at high interests, saying this in turn permitted it to promise generous payments to investors.
A court-appointed receiver has already swooped in to take control of about $150 million in cash, cars, boats, artwork, and high-end real estate owned by the Par Funding defendants, squirrelling it away for a big payback.
In addition, Par did pay more than $200 million to investors. Plus, the receiver has also tried to keep pressing Par Funding’s borrowers for their loan payments. Still, at some point, there may be a day of reckoning in which investors will know the size of any losses.
Furman, based in West Palm Beach, was one of the smaller drummers raising money. The SEC said he helped steer $10 million into Par Funding; his lawyers put the figure at $6 million.
Berlin, the SEC lawyer, declined to comment on her win. Gurbir S. Grewal, the SEC director of enforcement in Washington, D.C, said in a statement that the “verdict underscores that the commission will continue to pursue those who violate the federal securities laws and victimize investors.”
Zachary Hyman, one of Furman’s lawyers, said that Furman was considering an appeal.
“We are disappointed in the results of the trial,”Hyman said, adding, “The court limited what we could present to the jury in a very significant way.”
Par Funding was owned in part by Joseph LaForte and his wife, Lisa McElhone. LaForte was convicted of two financial crimes before starting Par Funding, and served two prison terms. LaForte is also awaiting a criminal trial on charges of illegal possession of firearms by a felon.