CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Hal H. Brown Jr., 70, of Asheville, N.C., was sentenced to 210 months in prison and three years of supervised release for orchestrating a $22 million Ponzi scheme, announced Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. U.S. District Judge Kenneth D. Bell also ordered Brown to pay more than $17 million as restitution.
John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte Division, joins U.S. Attorney Murray in making today’s announcement.
According to filed court documents and yesterday’s sentencing hearing, from at least 2007 through September 2019, Brown fraudulently obtained more than $22.5 million from at least 60 victims, some of whom were at, or near, retirement age, by engaging in a sophisticated Ponzi scheme through his company Oodles Inc. and its various affiliates (collectively “OODLES”). Court records show that Brown was the architect and primary, if not sole, operator of the fraud, and he used his religious reputation and his respected status in the local community to con his investor-victims into trusting him with their money.
According to court documents, Brown defrauded family, friends, neighbors, and fellow church members, who invested anywhere from a few thousand to a few million dollars in OODLES. To induce victims to invest their money, Brown falsely represented that OODLES owned hundreds of millions of dollars in intellectual property, namely family entertainment shows and movies with a religious theme. As part of the scheme, Brown repeatedly lied to victims about the imminent sale of those intellectual properties to various well-known media companies. To perpetuate the fraud, Brown developed marketing material seeking investments or loans for OODLES that claimed large returns on funds invested or lent to the company.
As Brown previously admitted in court, to convince victims the scheme was legitimate and to appease investors who sought an explanation about delays in payouts, Brown provided victims with a number of fraudulent and misleading statements and fictitious information, including fake bank statements and falsified company agreements, among others. He also impersonated employees of well-known media companies and at least one law-firm to add the appearance of legitimacy to his scheme.
According to court documents and today’s sentencing hearing, Brown led an affluent lifestyle, and used a substantial part of victim money on personal expenses unrelated to purported OODLES transactions. He also used funds contributed by new investors to make payments to existing investors, commonly referred to as “Ponzi” payments.
At the sentencing hearing, the Court heard evidence, including statements from some of Brown’s victims, about the tremendous damage wrought by Brown’s fraudulent scheme. This included causing some of his victims serious substantial economic and psychological damage, robbing some of his victims’ nest eggs set aside for education and retirement, and forcing some of his victims out of retirement and back into the workforce.
On January 21, 2020, Brown pleaded guilty to securities fraud and transactional money laundering. In handing down Brown’s enhanced sentence today, the Court considered Brown’s lack of remorse and accountability and the need to protect the public from further crimes by Brown, after evidence presented at the sentencing hearing revealed that, up until very recently, Brown continued to proclaim his innocence in a video he had sent to numerous individuals with whom he had worked decades ago in a volunteer organization to solicit letters of support for his good character. Based on the false information Brown presented in his video, some of the email recipients did write letters of support for Brown, which were filed with the Court. The Court also received evidence of a recent email sent on Brown’s behalf repeating Brown’s lies about his innocence and soliciting loans to help Brown pay expenses, which Brown would purportedly repay with interest in the near future.
In imposing the lengthy sentence, Judge Bell noted that while most Ponzi schemes are horrendous, Brown’s conduct represented some of the worst fraud committed in the worst way and harming some of the most vulnerable victims. Brown was remanded into custody at the conclusion of the sentencing hearing to begin serving his sentence immediately.
In making today’s announcement U.S. Attorney Murray thanked the FBI’s Hickory Residence Agency office, which handled the investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel Ryan and Mark Odulio of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte are prosecuting the case.
In March 2019, Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, announced the Office’s Elder Justice Initiative, which aims to combat elder financial exploitation by expanding efforts to investigate and prosecute financial scams that target seniors; educate older adults on how to identify scams and avoid becoming victims of financial fraud; and promote greater coordination with law enforcement partners. For more information please visit: https://edit.justice.gov/usao-wdnc/elder-justice-initiative.