ASHEVILLE, N.C. – U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray announced today that Mark Nicholas Pyatt, 44, of North Dakota, was sentenced to 37 months in prison for an investment scheme that defrauded victims out of more than $200,000. In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr., also ordered Pyatt to serve three years under court supervision after his release from imprisonment, and explained that a forthcoming order will obligate Pyatt to pay approximately $274,506 to his victims as restitution. Pyatt previously pleaded guilty to wire fraud.
Ronnie Martinez, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Charlotte; Robert Schurmeier, Director of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation; and Sheriff Greg Christopher of the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office join U.S. Attorney Murray in making today’s announcement.
According to court documents and court proceedings, beginning as early as October 2017 and continuing through at least February 2019, Pyatt, often using the alias Daniel G. Randolph, solicited friends and acquaintances to invest their money in a “communal account,” or “fund,” held by his company, Winston Reed Investments, LLC (WRI). Court documents show that Pyatt represented to his victim-investors that he had made significant amounts of money through his own investing and day trading activities, and that he wanted to invest the victims’ money using a similar strategy so that they could experience the same wealth that he enjoyed.
According to court records, in order to induce the victims to part with their money, Pyatt made a number of false and fraudulent representations. For example, Pyatt told the investors that he would make trades with the investors’ money on a daily basis, that he would be trading futures and “forex,” and that he would specialize in energy-related stocks. Pyatt also falsely promised large returns on investments, assuring victims that the “low average expected return on investments” would be 15% per month, with a goal of a return of 100% in three to four months. Pyatt represented to his victims that he would receive a fee for WRI’s services of just 10% of all gains, and that he would not charge his investors any fees if he did not make a profit.
According to court records, in furtherance of the fraud, Pyatt made false misrepresentations to victim-investors about the fund’s performance. For example, for months, Pyatt regularly provided his investors with false updates that purported to describe his trading activity and the considerable positive returns he was earning on their investments. Then, in February 2019, after reporting substantial monthly gains to his investors for more than a year, Pyatt notified his investors by email that a “complete and catastrophic” loss had occurred, and that their money was gone. Pyatt falsely claimed that he was investigating the loss with the assistance of a forensics firm, and told his investors that the loss was due to a technical oversight or failure by the brokerage firm holding the investment account. Court records show that all of these representations were false, and, in reality, the money was gone because Pyatt spent it.
Contrary to the promises he made to victim-investors, Pyatt simply stole the vast majority of the investors’ money. Specifically, Pyatt misappropriated over $100,000 to pay for personal expenses, including to buy jewelry, groceries, cigars, and a Chevrolet Corvette. Pyatt also withdrew tens of thousands of dollars in cash, and made several Ponzi-style payments to his investors, falsely implying that the returned funds were trading profits.
During a substantial portion of the scheme, Pyatt resided in Haywood County and targeted local victims. In total, Pyatt stole well over $200,000 from his victim investors, many of whom were at, or near, retirement age.
In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Murray commended the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, the SBI, and HSI for their investigation of the criminal case, and thanked the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) for their invaluable assistance.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Bradley, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville, is in charge of the prosecution.
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://www.justice.gov/usao-wdnc/elder-justice-initiative.