A federal court has ordered the temporary shutdown of a real estate operation called “Sanctuary Belize,” among other names, the Federal Trade Commission said on Thursday, saying it was a scam that has cost investors more than $100 million over more than 10 years.
The FTC has asked the U.S. District Court in Maryland to permanently close the companies. The agency said in its complaint that Andris Pukke, who it called a “serial scammer,” had joined with others to sell lots in a luxury development in the Central American nation of Belize, promising it would soon have amenities like a golf course and casino that have not been completed.
Efforts to reach Pukke, Sanctuary Belize and related companies for comment were not immediately successful.
Pukke began selling the lots in about 2005, advertising on cable news channels, the FTC said.
There are more than 1,000 victims who may have paid as much as $500,000 outright or made down payments, the FTC said in its complaint.
Part of the time Pukke headed the scam, he was in prison, the FTC said. He was sentenced to 18 months in 2010 following clashes with the government over another company, this one called AmeriDebt, which the FTC said had cheated debtors. Pukke was found to have concealed assets that he had agreed to turn over.
Belize has been on the international news on multiple occasions for various reasons stemming from tourism to global representation and a hideaway for criminals. Tonight’s story is not about any criminal hiding out in Belize but rather it is about a set of schemers who used Belize as their marketing tool to obtain over one hundred million dollars from over one thousand US investors. The Federal Trade Commission in the United States has temporarily shut down the operation via an order from the federal district court in Maryland. The real estate investment development in Belize goes by the names, Sanctuary Belize, Sanctuary Bay and/or The Reserve. A LIVE press conference was held this morning by the FTC at their headquarters in Washington DC. The conference was led by Jim Kohm, Associate Director of the division of enforcement.
JIM KOHM: “The action that FTC is announcing today hauls a very sophisticated scan that targeted American Consumers specifically small business owners who are largely looking for retirement property. The scheme co-acted in more than 100 million dollars in hard earned savings of unsuspecting consumers through the sale of more than 1000 lots of land based on false promises. Last week the FTC filed three contempt actions and new complaint against 17 entities and 8 individuals including a hard core recidivous scammer named Andre Puckie who is the mastermind of the scheme from the beginning through yesterday. Astonishingly Mr. Puckie was imprisoned for obstructing justice in the FTC’s original case here the Ameridet Case while he continued to run scam. Puckie and other individuals lured people with a deceptive pitch that they could build their dream home in luxurious development on attractive land in Southern Belize but instead of getting their dream home buyers found themselves in a nightmare. Here’s how the scheme worked: in repeating marketing pitches and prant online and on TV Puckie and his cohorts promised potential buyers a piece of luxury community that they were building in coastal Belize. They claimed that this sanctuary would offer top of the line amenities like an American style hospital staff by US doctors and nurses, a world class arena, a luxury hotel, shops and restaurants and an near by international airport.”
The promises made to the investors are extremely outrageous as mentioned by Kohm. We went looking to see what exactly they were up to on the digital market and here is a snippet of a 30-minute infomercial circulating internationally for Sanctuary Bay.
One hundred million dollars – it is quite a very attractive sum to have collected on false promises. So, where exactly did all this money go? Kohm says they have been able to track some of it.
JIM KOHM: “They also claimed that they took 100% of lot sales and put them back into the development of the property and that would allow them to finish the property quickly in two to five years, these claims were crucial to people’s decision to buy what they thought would be retirement homes in a beautiful remote property in southern Belize, unfortunately these claims were all false. The FTC asked Dr. Richard Prizor, one of the countries leading authorities on large scale development to analyze the viability of the Sanctuary Belize project, according to Dr. Prizor building facilities like a promised hospital in a remote area of Belize is not economically sustainable. He also explains that contrary to defendants claims, a no debt model where you are simply putting investment back into the development without borrowing money actually significantly increases the risk of the project due to the lack of liquidity and oversight, because no debt financing severely restrict the cash flow available for any project the defendants claims that they put all the money they got back into the project was particularly important, however like their other claims this claim too was a lie. Instead of putting money back into the development, the defendants diverted millions of dollars to pay for their own personal expenses, for example in violation of a prior court order in the Ameridet case Puckie used more than $3,000,000 from lot sales to pay off a loan from a friend, a loan that he had taken out to get out of jail in the Ameridate case. He also took money to remodel a luxury home in Southern California and to squirrel away millions of dollars with his family and friends as one of Pucki’s former accountants admitted. All though millions of dollars flowed through the Sanctuary Belize accounts, relatively little went to construction expenses in Belize. The people who invested in Sanctuary Belize were sophisticated consumers and many did their own due diligence before investing. That process often led to the discovery that Mr. Puckie a convicted felon was associated with the development, needless to say that this was big red flag for many but when prospective buyer made inquiries the defendants again simply lied. They said that Puckie had nothing to do with the development or had only a very limited role.”
While the FTC is trying to help investors get back their monies, they have taken swift court action through the court against the players.
JIM KOHM :The receiver has taken control of the operation and a preliminary injunction is currently scheduled for November 19th. The court actions so far is that culmination of an exhaustive investigation conducted over the past year. The FTC filled more than 14,000 pages of evidence included testimony from insider telemarketers, the defendants accountant, internal email from the scheme, numerous undercover calls by FTC investigative staff posing as prospective buyers, expert testimony and the testimony of people who have lost tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Love News reached out to the Attorney General, Michael Peyrefitte to discuss the matter but he has yet to respond to our request.
FTC Uncovers Major Land Fraud Scheme in Southern Belize
There is huge news coming from the Federal Trade Commission in the US tonight - and it has to do with a mega project in southern Belize called Sanctuary Development.
It is being called the “the largest real estate fraud the agency has ever uncovered in its history.” The civil action names Belize’s Atlantic International Bank - among many other companies as part of the scheme. Local Manager, Johnny Usher is also named. He today told us he has no comment until he speaks to his attorney.
So what is Sanctuary Belize - and who got the bad end of a raw deal? Well, “Sanctuary Belize” targetted investors from across the United States - mostly retirees - to buy properties on their 14,000 acre development. Here’s a video of the sales pitch made by principal Luke Chadwick:
Investors were promised dream retirement homes in a community developed with a raft of luxury amenities, including an American-staffed hospital, “world-class” arena and an international airport. They were also promised that their lots would double or triple in value in two or three years. But the scheme was run by a string of American scammerS, and only about 10 percent of the lots bought by investors over more than 15 years were ever developed.
That’s because the developers were “about half a billion dollars short of the capital they would have needed to complete the development.”
A civil complaint taken out by the FCC names more than two dozen people and companies including Atlantic International Bank which the FTC says is the first foreign bank it has ever brought an action against.
According to the civil complaint, Atlantic International quote, “jointly markets with Sanctuary Belize…urged (Sanctuary Belize) telemarketers to sell its banking services to American consumers as part of the…sales.” End quote.
The civil complaint adds, “Atlantic International has assisted and facilitated in the TSR violations this Complaint sets forth….At all times material to this Complaint, Atlantic International knew, or reasonably should have known, that its acts in furtherance of its unlawful coordination with SBE in violation of the TSR substantially affect the United States.” End quote. We’ll keep following this story.
Sanctuary Belize – biggest foreign real estate scam in US Federal Trade Commission’s history!
A Belizean bank has been charged by the FTC for “assisting and facilitating … the scam.”
The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced today, Thursday, that it has uncovered the largest international real estate fraud in its history.
“Sanctuary Belize,” the FTC says, is a $100-million scheme that the commission has filed court papers in Maryland District Court to shut down. Sanctuary Belize has bilked US investors out of millions of dollars, the FTC has alleged.
Sanctuary Belize attracts investors with a promise to build dream retirement homes with luxury amenities, including an American-staffed hospital and an international airport linking them to the United States.
The man behind the scheme has been identified as Andris Pukke, an American felon who is reportedly living in California and goes by several aliases, including Marc Romeo and Andy Story. Pukke has had several brushes with the FTC and has reportedly even carried out his fraud from behind prison walls.
Sanctuary Belize has been in existence for about 15 years, and only about 10 percent of the lots purchased by investors have been developed.
James Kohm, the Assistant Director of the FTC for enforcement, is quoted in The Real Deal, a real estate publication in New York, as saying, “Instead of getting their dream home, buyers found themselves in a nightmare.”
Kohm has called Pukke a “hardcore recidivist scammer.”
It is believed that Pukke took investors’ money to pay for a loan that is connected to his bail and to finance his personal home in Newport Beach, California.
A civil complaint that has been filed has listed more than 25 persons, including Pukke and Sanctuary Belize principal Luke Chadwick, as well as Atlantic Bank International, which is based in Belize, and is the first foreign bank against which the FTC has brought an action.
The Real Deal reported that in 2017, the Wall Street Journal did an exposé on the struggles Belize investors had with Pukke and his childhood friend, Peter Baker, who was also named in today’s complaint.
The FTC has tried to recover Pukke’s holdings in Belize, but was unsuccessful, and held Baker in contempt of court for helping Pukke evade that recovery, The Real Deal reported.
According to the FTC, the scammers “ran commercials on Fox News and Bloomberg News advertising parcels of land that were part of a luxury development in Belize.”
Customers who expressed an interest in the property would receive telemarketers’ calls from California, the FTC said on its web site.
“The FTC also contends that relying on the defendants’ deceptive claims, consumers purchased lots that typically cost between $150,000 and $500,000 outright, or made large down-payments followed by sizeable monthly payments, in addition to paying monthly Homeowners Association (HOA) fees.
However, because the defendants’ claims are not true, consumers either have lost, or will lose, some or all of their investment,” the FTC website said.
“Based on these claims, the FTC charges the defendants with violating the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule.
“In addition, the FTC charges Belize’s Atlantic International Bank with assisting and facilitating the Sanctuary Belize scam,” the FTC said.
According to the FTC, which has put out a call for investors to contact them, Sanctuary Belize also operates under different names such as Global Property Alliance, Buy Belize, Buy International, Eco Futures, Sittee River Wildlife Reserve, Sanctuary Bay, The Reserve, and The Marina at the Reserve.
Re: US court shuts down 'Sanctuary Belize' investment scam
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FTC Action Against Atlantic International Could Cause “Contamination” in Banking Sector
Tonight there is concern in Belize's banking sector after Atlantic International Bank was named in a civil complaint by the United States Federal Trade Commission. As we reported, the FTC yesterday shut down Sanctuary Belize, which is described as "the largest overseas real estate investment scam the FTC has ever targeted." Sanctuary Belize is a 14,000 acre development which was set up as an elaborate scam by American principals. It took in over $100 million dollars from investors, but never delivered lots in what was supposed to become a luxury development in Southern Belize. Many US investors were duped and, now, the FTC has asked as US court to stop the scheme and recover hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate the jilted U.S. investors. And that means freezing the foreign accounts of Atlantic International Bank. We understand that even their payroll account was frozen - and there was some uncertainty today as to how the staff would be paid. The bank is headquartered at the foot of the Belcan Bridge in Belize City. They told us today they would issue a statement but none has been forthcoming.
Now, this isn't the Atlantic Bank we're all used to - it's a related company under the same ownership group. But it operates in the offshore sector - meaning Belizeans can't have accounts there. It only offers banking services to foreign consumers, mostly Americans.
But, it is tied to the domestic Atlantic Bank - which is currently the biggest bank in Belize. And what the bankers call "reputational risk" is a serious problem. That's because Atlantic is one of the few banks which still has a correspondent banking relationship with the all-important Bank of New York Mellon. But now that Atlantic International has become the first foreign bank which the FTC has ever brought an action against, the Bank of New York may consider reviewing its arrangements with the domestic Atlantic Bank - which would spell crisis for Belize's banking sector.
That's because of what bankers call "contamination" - which is that any suggestion of less than above board banking practices - can cause related parties to be tainted. This is a very real risk because the FTC says that Atlantic International Bank assisted and facilitated the Sanctuary Belize scam.
It's a cause for great concern throughout the banking sector - and today the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank Kareem Michael told us that the Central Bank is monitoring the situation very closely and is in touch with all parties including the FTC. It also caused many Americans who have accounts at the Bank to get jumpy because of frozen accounts.
So, a lot of uncertainty tonight - and, as we said, we're waiting for a comment from the Atlantic Bank or the Central Bank. We'll keep monitoring the situation.
And today a local attorney took a suit against Sanctuary Belize to the Supreme Court of Belize.
Steve Perrera is suing Sanctuary's related company the Sitee River Wildlife Preserve on behalf of a client from Arizona. Coleen Strom says she invested fifty thousand dollars in Sanctuary and got scammed. Perrera told us why they were in court today:
Steve Perrera - Attorney for Land Scam Victims "It's a claim for the return of funds that she has paid to developers in the development commonly referred to as the Belize reserve which is owned by Sittee River wildlife reserve. Today what has transpired is that the matter was adjourned to give the defendants an opportunity and time to provide us with information as to what's occurring on the larger scale in the US and what's the situation on the ground with respect to the development."
Reporter "Your client, shouldn't they have a legitimate concern that whatever reward is given or whatever the court awards, everything is frozen. All the assets are related to Sanctuary Belize are frozen."
Steve Perrera - Attorney for Land Scam Victims "Yes, and this is the concern that we have. That's what was brought to the attention of the court today as a result we asked for an adjournment to give the defendants time to bring more information to us as to what is transpiring in respect to their works and their development and their accounts."
Reporter "Did the government drop the ball in relation to ensuring that all the procedures were followed and doing their diligence so that people would not be duked?"
Steve Perrera - Attorney for Land Scam Victims "Again, I can't speak on behalf of the government or their actions to what all they have done. I don't know if they have done anything. It is a situation where the clients are a bit upset about the whole transaction but that's mainly against the developers."
We know that there were complaints to the Lands Department and even the DPP's office about the Sanctuary Belize scam.
Perrera has pointed out in court that the company also ran afoul of Central Bank regulations in conducting land transactions and sending the sales revenue back to the US:..
Steve Perrera - Attorney for Land Scam Victims "The situation is that central bank requires that all funds in respect to purchasing of a property, be paid into a Belize dollar account here in the country of Belize. Unfortunately, what we have happening is that quite a number of these developments have funds be paid over a period of time like those instalment payments and they are having these instalment payments being made to the US. Now it becomes a problem when you have a situation where you have a local company selling to a foreign national because that requires permission from central bank for the transfer to take place. However, for these types of developments that have been collecting monthly payments for the past 2 years, those buyers have great difficulty getting their title because when they go to central bank they can't prove that all the funds for the purchase including the instalment payments were being paid into a Belize dollar account."
LISSETTE STAINES, An attorney from Barrow and Williams represented Sanctuary Belize in Court today.
Atlantic International Rejects FTC Finding, Says No Wrongdoing
Atlantic International Bank says it did nothing wrong. The Offshore Bank has been named in a civil compliant from the Federal Trade Commission in the United States. Last week, the FTC asked a Federal District Court to shut down a real estate scam called Sanctuary Belize.
The FTC says Atlantic International, assisted and facilitated in the Telemarketing Sales Rules violations (for Sanctuary Belize)…and that the offshore bank knew, or reasonably should have known, that its acts in furtherance of its unlawful coordination with Sanctuary Belize… substantially affect the United States."
Well, in a statement issued today, Atlantic International, says, quote, "The Board of Directors and Management of AIBL deny any allegation of wrongdoing by AIBL. AIBL enjoys a record as a good corporate citizen and trusted partner to its primarily non - resident customer base. AIBL has worked tirelessly to develop its reputation as a sound and responsible partner in Belize development….AIBL reserves all of its rights and will defend its customers and its interests as it did not engage in wrongdoing."
The release notes that AIBL has retained attorneys in Belize and the US.
The Atlantic Domestic Bank - which is separate and apart from Atlantic International- says it has absolutely no ownership links with Atlantic International since 2011.
Lawyers Could Suffer in AIB Account Freeze
And while that is the story of just one Sanctuary Belize investor - there are as many as three thousand others who have invested much more money.
Perrera also sued on behalf of another client last year. His client won - but has not gotten paid and has had to go to court to seek enforcement.
And while that is only a small part of the fallout from Sanctuary Belize - another is that the US accounts of Atlantic International Bank have been frozen. Perrera says that could affect local attorneys who use AIBL for escrow accounts:..
Steve Perrera - Attorney for Land Scam Victims "As attorney, what we do utilized at times for escrow services we utilized US dollars accounts at the international banks as well as the local banks."
Reporter "What you are saying is that some of the monies that come to Belize law firms would be mired up in what's being frozen at this time?"
Steve Perrera - Attorney for Land Scam Victims "I wouldn't be able to speak on whether or not that's the case. It's possible likely, yes."
Sen. Valerie Woods Was Director of Dubious Sittee River Wildlife Preserve
We’ve been reporting on the Sanctuary Belize situation for days now. That’s the real estate scam based in southern Belize which has defrauded scores of US investors. The Federal Trade Commission in the US shut it down - after it named that company and two dozen others in a civil complaint.
But the collateral damage and contamination n Belize is significant. We’ve already discussed the effect on Atlantic Internal Bank, but it goes even deeper. One of the related companies named in the complaint is a non profit NGO called Sittee River Wildlife Preserve. As we understand it this not for profit holds the 14,000 acres of land where the development was supposed to be based.
Documents coming to the for earlier this week show that the documents for Sittee were prepared by the Prime Minister’s law firm, Barrow and Williams in 2003, and PUP Senator Valerie Woods was listed as a director.
Today, Woods who is in the Ukraine told us via telephone that she resigned in 2016 from what she thought was a non functioning NGO:..
Hon. Valerie Woods - Resign as Director "15 years ago I was approached by Ms. Joan Medhurst, if I would consider being a member of the Sittee River wildlife reserve. As you may recall, Ms. Medhurst was one of Belize's chief public relations person promoting as a tourist destination, I knew her from the time I worked at the BTB. I had no reason doubt any intention of what she was proposing. I had never been informed of any meeting, activity, decision, anything having to do with the NGO Sittee River wildlife reserve. In fact I never knew if it was even a functioning board or reserve. I heard nothing literally until February 2016 when the management of the reserve told me I'm listed on the registry of directors members, it came as a complete surprise and I immediately said to them I find that incredible, so I immediately sent in my resignation and that was from February 2016."
Jules Vasquez "Were you aware that this enterprise was already the staging ground for very ruthless and elaborate real estate scam?"
Hon. Valerie Woods "No, I had no knowledge of anything with this."
Jules Vasquez "Is it something that concerns you, in so far as that your name is associated with one of the groups that are named in this civil complaint?"
Hon. Valerie Woods "It is concerning to me if my name is still listed as a director because I knew I had resigned."
Jules Vasquez "Had you ever met Mr. Andris Pukke and Mr. Pukke is referred to by the FCT as a recidivist scammer, that means he's a serial scammer. How alarmed are you to know that your name was fixed to a paper with someone who had a long track record of this sort of behaviour?"
Hon. Valerie Woods "On a scale of 1 to 10, it would be pass 10 Jules, I don't take this lightly and so I am very disgruntled and I'm upset and I am alarmed. It really is disgusting to know that your name is even associated with something as sinister that has been displayed on the news when you had nothing to do with that."
And while Woods resigned in 2016, up until earlier this week - an attorney from Barrow and Williams was representing the Sittee River Wildlife Reserve in the Supreme Court.
Valerie Woods Clears Her Name in Sittee River Wildlife Scam
Senator Valerie Woods is away in Ukraine attending a meeting of Parliamentarians for Global Action, but when her name began circulating earlier today, in respect of a scam involving the Sittee River Wildlife Reserve, she found it necessary to come forward and clear her name. Woods, who was employed at the Belize Tourism Board in 2003 when the organization was formed, was named as a member of Sittee River Wildlife’s board of directors. She told News Five today that for many years she was under the belief that the organization was defunct, since she was never called in for a meeting, nor was she sent minutes of any previous sessions. In fact, she says that when she learned that the organization was still active, she tendered her resignation via email in February 2017. Here’s her version of events.
On the Phone: Senator Valerie Woods
“And so without hesitation, I can let you know for the record that I am not, nor have I ever been an active director of the Sittee River Wildlife Reserve. Fifteen years ago, I was approached by Mrs. Joan Medhurst whom I knew. I worked with her through my time at the Belize Tourism Board and when she and her husband, Colin Medhurst retired and moved to Belize, we regained our friendship and she approached me and asked if I would be a member of the Sittee River Wildlife Reserve. She described it as a non-profit, non-government organization that was to be a private wildlife reserve area. Having known her for as long as I did and the work that she had done, I had no reason to doubt her genuine and legitimate intention and what she proposed and that has been done all over the world where you have private wildlife reserves. And so I had agreed in 2003, to serve as a director and that is why my name showed up as the first directors on that list. Since then, since 2003 I’ve had no dealings with Sittee River Wildlife Reserve, I was never contacted. To be very clear, I was never informed of any board meetings of the N.G.O., any activities, any decisions, in fact I didn’t even know that the board of the N.G.O. was still functioning. I just assumed that it just really never got off and it was defunct. I heard or I became aware only until February of 2016, which is when I learned from the management of the reserve that I was still listed on the registry of directors and members. This came as a complete surprise to me because I was not aware that either the board of the N.G.O. or the reserve was operational. So I immediately sent in my resignation. I was asked if I wanted to continue being a member, but I can’t be a member of something that I thought never existed and I can’t continue being the member of a board where clearly I wasn’t even informed of board meetings all this time. So the question of continuing wasn’t even up for discussion. I felt it necessary to clarify because I don’t want it ever to be misconstrued or stated that I am a part of this horrible scam that has presented itself.”
In 2017, a multimillion dollar investment was supposed to give way to a world-class tourism development in Belize, but the Puerto Azul project turned out to be nothing more than Ponzi scheme. More than two hundred private investors were jilted out of millions of dollars and Belize was at the center of it. Sounds familiar? That’s because the latest scam to hit Belize, leaving black and bruised eye, is the Sanctuary Bay multimillion dollar real estate scam. And again, Belize is at the center of it. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Andres Pukke and his associates are accused of duping investors into buying Sanctuary Belize lots by falsely promising that the development would include luxury amenities and that the property would be completed soon. It has been fifteen years and the project is far from completion. In fact, the F.T.C. reported that Pukke needs about five hundred million more dollars for the project to be realized. After being revealed as one of the biggest real estate scam that the F.T.C. has uncovered, several international news agencies such as the Washington Post have picked up and reported on the story. It’s an international public relations nightmare for the government which has discussed the issue, according to Cabinet Minister Manuel Heredia Junior.
Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism
“As a government we are very concerned about this situation. From day one when I took over there was the Sueno del Mar deal. So every time we are more cautious with investors. There is a subcommittee of cabinet that looks at projects now. We require a certain percentage; I believe it is fifteen percent, of the total amount to be deposited in Central Bank before moving forward. That is the situation with Blackadore, that project over there. They have not been able to come up with the fifteen percent. They have the green light to start tomorrow if they would put that fifteen percent. So we are very more cautious because we know, we certainly know that in the world you will find all different types of people and it is not very easy to monitor these types of things. But yes we are concerned. It can create a black eye for Belize. It is now one of the best in the world, moving faster than most of the world today. There are many things that can keep you back if you are not cautious in what you are doing. But we are very concerned as a government about that.”
“Cabinet has discussed the matter?”
Manuel Heredia Jr.
“Yes. I believe that the Prime Minister was suppose to have done a press conference or is about to do a press conference I think this week as in regards what Central Bank is doing, what government is doing. I am sure he will have a press conference shortly to tell the Belizean people where we are, what we are doing and what we think should be done.”
Former Prime Minister Weighs in on Sanctuary Bay Scam
…and while we wait to hear from Prime Minister Barrow, former Prime Minister Said Musa has weighed in on the matter. Musa, who is also a seasoned attorney, has been to Sittee River Wildlife Reserve on a site visit, not as a government official but in the capacity as a lawyer. According to Musa, he represented a client who was suing the owners. And as far as the scam goes, Musa says it is not something that would have been obvious to someone in Belize.
Said Musa, Former Prime Minister
“I have been down there to look at the facility and the reason I did that was because I was involved in a case in which we are suing the actual owners. This was way back, a few years ago. But it concerned more whether my client, who had built on the facility as an engineer, architect, whether he had done a proper job of the facility. So I had to go and inspect the facility itself. As far as the scam, I don’t think that was obvious to anyone in Belize. I took place between the banks and the prospectus that was put out up there in the United States of America. I am surprise that the allegation if it is correct- a hundred million dollars scam- that has taken so long to come to light especially with the kind of judicial system that they have in the United States, FBI and all that, F.C.C. which are supposedly very strict. I am just surprise that this has taken so long for this thing to come to light.”
“Do you believe that hurts Belize’s image internationally?
“Yes it does just like the one with Cannes. These people went to Cannes, proposing this massive investment in our marine areas of Belize. Total scam. That’s the problem when ministers go abroad and just give in to the hype and allow these people to use the name of Belize. That can lead to very unfortunate situation.”
PM Says Sanctuary Belize will not affect Banking Sector
Atlantic International Bank (AIB), an offshore institution, was cited in a in a civil complaint from the Federal Trade Commission in the United States. The Trade Commission requested a US Federal District Court to shut down a real estate scam called Sanctuary Belize which siphoned millions of dollars from North Americans who wished to build homes in Belize. The properties involved are on the Sittee River Wildlife Preserve, a privately owned company which had some legal representation by Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s Law firm. Barrow denies that there is anything wrong done by the law firm with representing the company and believes that it is unfortunate that Atlantic International was named in the suit. After today’s House Sitting, PM Barrow told the media he does not believe it will have any effect on the banking system in Belize.
Honorable Prime Minister Dean Barrow: The contract between themselves and SB had been breached and prepared therefore to sue for the recovery of their money. If they actually alleged criminal fraud then that’s a different matter but just on the basis of the material that I saw which constituted the complaint of the FTC it was certainly according to the judgment of the authorities in the states and we know those people don’t play. It wasn’t a question of criminal fraud as much as the kind of fraudulent misrepresentation which grounds civil liability and for which damages would be recoverable. Of course it is unpleasant that our country’s name should be called in this context. It is even more unpleasant that apart from these companies registered here but in relation to which we all know the moving forces are foreign. It is extremely worrying that Atlantic International Bank Ltd should have been named but there it is. I can do no more than repeat that as far as we can tell and the Central Bank has checked and continues to check there is no risk of any kind of infection with regard to the rest of the Banking system with regard to the financial system in this country. It is on the face of it limited entirely to AIBL and with respect to the evidence or the alleged evidence that I saw in the complaint I would hope and believe that AIBL will be able to work through this.
Belize Telemedia Limited had received a loan from Atlantic International Bank. PM Barrow says that Telemedia is not affected in any way and the funds had already been drawn out by Telemedia.
Government concerned about Belize’s image, after FTC exposes Sanctuary Belize scam
Belize, it appears, is suffering major international embarrassment after the Sanctuary Belize real estate scam was exposed by the United States’ Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the story took on a life of its own when it was picked up by several US mainstream media outlets. On Tuesday, Minister of Tourism, Manuel Heredia, Jr., said that Prime Minister Dean Barrow will most likely call a press conference to express government’s position on the matter.
The private real estate investment scheme that was advertised as “Sanctuary Belize”, which has bilked scores of United States citizens out of millions of dollars, and which the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had to close down on Thursday, November 8, after its investigation revealed that it was a scam, will be discussed by Prime Minister Dean Barrow at a press conference which has not yet been scheduled, Minister of Tourism Manuel Heredia, Jr., announced on Tuesday.
Sanctuary Belize, which also was marketed under other names, one of these being “Sittee River Wildlife Reserve,” has been listed by the FTC as the biggest real estate fraud it has uncovered in its history, and for the first time, an international bank has been named in court papers that the FTC has filed on behalf of around two dozen complainants in the US. The scam has also spawned lawsuits in Belize’s jurisdiction from jilted investors.
The dream homes that the Sanctuary Belize investment in southern Belize promised to its investors turned out to be a nightmare, resembling the 2017 failed Puerto Azul project in which investors were conned out of millions of dollars.
The man behind the Sanctuary Belize scam is Andres Pukke, a repeat violator of FCC rules and regulations, who is a felon who operated his scam from behind prison walls in the US. After coming on stream about 15 years ago, Sanctuary Belize is in need of about 500 million dollars, the FTC estimated.
Minister Heredia remarked, “As a government we are very concerned about this situation. From day one when I took over there was the Sueño del Mar deal, so we are more cautious with investors. There is a subcommittee of Cabinet that looks at projects now. We require a certain percentage, I believe it is fifteen percent of the total amount, to be deposited in Central Bank before moving forward. That is the situation with Blackadore, that project over there. They have not been able to come up with the fifteen percent. They have the green light to start tomorrow if they would put that fifteen percent. So, we are more cautious because we know, we certainly know that in the world you will find all different types of people, and it is not very easy to monitor these types of things. But yes, we are concerned. It can create a black eye for Belize…There are many things that can keep you back if you are not cautious in what you are doing…we are very concerned as a government about that.”
Minister Heredia was asked if the Cabinet has discussed Sanctuary Belize.
“Yes, I believe that the Prime Minister was supposed to have done a press conference, or is about to do a press conference, I think this week, in regards to what Central Bank is doing, what government is doing. I am sure he will have a press conference shortly to tell the Belizean people where we are, what we are doing and what we think should be done,” said Minister Heredia.
PM mum on Sanctuary
On Tuesday, Minister of Tourism Manuel Heredia, Jr. told the media that Prime Minister Dean Barrow would shortly hold a press conference to address the Sanctuary Belize real estate scam that was shut down by the US Federal Trade Commission, but speaking to reporters today, Barrow clearly expressed that he did not want to talk about that subject.
When reporters caught up with him late this morning, and he was asked about the Sanctuary Belize matter, PM Barrow said that he and the Central Bank thought long and hard on whether “we should make any public statement, because it was, and still is, an extremely delicate situation.”
“A wise fellow once said, silence may be misunderstood, but it can never be misquoted,” the PM said. That has been the position adopted by the government and the Belize Central Bank.
The PM expressed the hope that Atlantic Bank International would be able to work through the difficulties with the US federal agency.
“Atlantic Bank International has a stellar reputation and all Belizeans should wish the bank well”, Barrow offered.
Amandala has learned that a United States judge in the District Court of Maryland has extended the temporary restraining order and interim preliminary injunction set down in regards to this matter earlier. Steve Rhodes, in an internet story at https://getoutofdebt.org, said that court control over Sanctuary Belize was extended “through at least February 2019” on the discovery of new evidence.
“The document damningly says, ‘The FTC and the Receiver entered the defendants” business premises on November 7, 2018, and found new evidence of the FTC’s allegations and significant corroboration, including documents showing the relevant individuals had the roles identified by the FTC in its pleadings and telemarketing scripts showing the defendants were making the relevant claims to consumers’,” Rhodes reported in his online story.
A number of business entities are listed under the restraining order. They are: AndrisPukke, Luke Chadwick, John Usher, Rod Kazazi, Brandi Greenfield, Frank Costanzo. and Defendants Global Property Alliance, Inc.. Sittee River Wildlife Reserve, Buy Belize LLC, Buy International, Inc., Foundation Development Management, Inc., Eco-Futures Development, Eco-Futures Belize Limited, Power Haus Marketing, Sanctuary Belize Property Owners’ Association, Prodigy Management Group LLC, Foundation Partners, BG Marketing, LLC, Ecological Fox., LLC, Belize Real Estate Affiliates LLC, Exotic Investor LLC, Southern Belize Realty LLC. (collectively, the “Sanctuary Belize Enterprise*” or “SBE”), and Atlantic International Bank Ltd.; and relief defendants Angela Chittenden, Beach Bunny Holdings, LLC, the Estate of John Pukke, John Vipulis, and Deborah Connelly.
Lettter to Central Bank shows knowledge of Sanctuary Bay’s scam
A letter addressed to the Central Bank Governor, Joy Grant and dated September 26, 2016, whilst she was still the Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), has surfaced. Before we get to the contents of that letter, however, we bring back Grant’s statement made on Wednesday, July 10 during a press conference at the Ramada Princess Hotel.
Joy Grant – Governor, Central Bank of Belize: “I want to go back to the memo because what the memo says Mr. Ysaguirre said there may be, he did not say that there was fraud and that is not in the document, that was not printed but I want to be clear to everyone that he said that maybe, he did not say that there was a fraud. Now as was said by the Prime Minister we the Central Bank look at financial institutions, there are certain guidelines, fiduciary guidelines and other things set up like liquidity and nonperforming loans, etc. and those are the things we look at. We do not look at real estate, we do not look at fraud issues in this country.”
As you heard in this interview, Grant says that the then Governor of the Central Bank, Glenford Ysaguirre, had only indicated that there ‘may be’ corruption involved in the Sittee River Wildlife Reserve project which is tied into the Sanctuary Bay development. The letter, however, goes further than just a ‘may be’. The letter starts off by introducing one of the investors and residents of Sanctuary Bay to Grant, explaining that the resident, Thomas Herskowitz, who has information on a ‘massive violations of our Foreign Exchange Regulations by the principals and developer of the SRWR real estate development project. Now, does that sound like a may be? It doesn’t to us but to add even more to the matter of Governor Grant dismissing the concern that Ysaguirre registered, the note ends by stating, quote, “We believe Mr Herskowitz to be a credible witness who has a lot of compelling evidence that may be of interest to the FIU.” End of quote. Fast forward almost three years later and Governor Grant says nothing was done. It was not passed on to her successor at the FIU nor was any action taken because they do not look into the real estate fraud.
One of the questions posed to the Prime Minister is what happens now to the lands that scammer Andris Pukke and his associates had secured for this real estate scam. According to the Prime Minister, the lands are owned by Sanctuary Belize and not Atlantic International Bank Limited.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow “Those lands don’t belong to A.I.B.L. you know. Those land belong to Sanctuary Bay and it is those land that the receiver appointed by the U.S. Court either will take custody off or has already taken custody of via the services of that excellent law firm, Barrow and Williams.”
Reporter “Did the lands department or the Ministry of Lands collect fees since the land is in Belize, land transfer tax?”
Prime Minister Dean Barrow “I would think so. One of the efforts to be helpful involved them sending to us the F.T.C. a list of the victims who have not yet received title to the lands they bought. The lands department will move expeditiously to transfer title to those who have bought lots from Sanctuary Bay but who have not yet received their document. We would do so of course upon payment of the necessary fees if they have not yet been paid. A number of others were pending the payment of stamp duty and a number of others had not yet been submitted to the lands department for processing.”
Sanctuary Belize fraud – FTC fingers Barrow-led government in bankruptcy court
The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed objections to the transferral of the Atlantic International Bank Limited (AIBL) bankruptcy case from the US jurisdiction to the Belize jurisdiction.
In its 50-page written submission filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida, the FTC highlighted the involvement of the Barrow-led government in the facilitation of the Sanctuary Belize Enterprise (SBE), the biggest real estate scam case in the FTC’s history.
The FTC’s objection, in effect, labels as complicit the authorities in Belize — from Prime Minister Dean Barrow, to his law partner, Rodwell Williams, S.C., to various Cabinet ministers, to a UDP senator and the Central Bank of Belize, which the FCC claims had advance knowledge of the SBE scam, but did nothing to stop it. The SBE scam has resulted in the loss of an estimated 100 million dollars to United States citizens who invested in SBE, it said.
Yesterday at a press conference, Prime Minister Dean Barrow, apart from defending himself and his government against the onslaught of the FTC’s allegations, said that a settlement between AIBL and the FTC has been reached, but the terms of the settlement could not be made public yet.
The inevitable question that arises from the Prime Minister’s assertion is, what is the Government of Belize doing talking about a settlement in a private investment gone wrong?
Barrow’s press conference was called “to set the record straight on the Sanctuary Bay situation,” and in his trademark eloquence he forcefully denied many of the FTC’s documented allegations, but was extremely careful not to dismiss the FTC’s claims as outright lies.
Not only did the FTC submission paint a disturbing picture of Cabinet ministers’ many contacts with SBE principals and operatives in Belize, but it also lambasted the Belize Central Bank for knowing about the fraud but doing nothing about it.
“Most of its depositors are American, most of its borrowers are apparently in the United States, and it can only do business in U.S. dollars. Accessing U.S. consumers interested in Sanctuary Belize were so important to Petitioner that it (and the Central Bank) ignored clear evidence that Sanctuary Belize was a fraud,” said the FTC document.
In the “Background” to the issue, the FTC submission said petitioner (ABIL) played a critical role in the Sanctuary Belize scam, and that the petitioner is a US-focused institution. Most of the petitioner’s clients are US citizens; none are Belizeans.
“This Chapter 15 proceeding is unusual because a foreign government (Belize) authorized Petitioner to do business exclusively outside that foreign jurisdiction. Specifically, as an ‘international bank’ under Belizean law, Petitioner can offer banking services ‘exclusively to non-residents’ of Belize,” the FTC said.
The FTC submission further stated, “Sometimes termed a ‘jurisdiction of convenience’, Belize is widely known as a haven for illicit financial transactions. For instance, a State Department report submitted to Congress earlier this year identified Belize as a ‘major money laundering jurisdiction.’”
The FTC submission said “the felon Andris Pukke and both Belizean and U.S. associates perpetrated the Sanctuary Belize Fraud.”
Pukke and Peter Baker were ordered by the court to turn over what the FTC document described as a Manhattan-sized development parcel of land in southern Belize that was known by various names, including Sanctuary Belize.
Pukke and Baker had to be civilly imprisoned before they eventually complied with the court order to turn over Sanctuary Belize to the court-appointed AmeriDebt, “but by secretly controlling Sittee River Wildlife Reserve (SRWR), they covertly maintained their control”, stated the FTC.
Thus the two US scammers continued the sale of lots in Belize and sold 1,400 lots for hundreds of thousands of US dollars each.
One of the questions that were asked at the Prime Minister’s press conference was whether or not the necessary stamp duties were paid on the sale of the lands. Prime Minister Barrow said he did not know whether the stamp duties were paid on the sale of these lands. The stamp duty would have amounted to millions of dollars, so it is puzzling that the Prime Minister, who is the Minister of Finance, did not, or does not know whether such payments were made.
Although Prime Minister Dean Barrow has denied meeting with the developers of Sanctuary Belize, the FTC insisted in its submission that the developers communicated with some of his ministers.
“Among other examples, SBE defendant Frank Costanzo communicated with Patrick Faber, the Deputy Prime Minister, Glenford Ysaguirre, the former Governor of the Central Bank of Belize (Central Bank), and Jose Heredia, the Minister of Tourism,” the FTC said.
Barrow also denied that the SBE matter was discussed at any of the Cabinet meetings that he chaired. The FTC said, however, “In one 2016 email, John Usher (one of the shareholders of SBE) reported to Pukke that he ‘met with four ministers last week’ who promised that a financial issue facing the development ‘would be taken up at the Cabinet level.’”
The FTC said that Senator Aldo Salazar facilitated the fraud by assisting the developers to take away lots from Americans.
“Aldo Salazar is an influential Belizean senator who belongs to the Prime Minister’s political party (the United Democratic Party). Senator Salazar is also an attorney who represented both AIBL and SBE. Significantly, Senator Salazar accompanied AIBL CEO Pelayo and bank manager Charles Ellis to Pukke’s California telemarketing headquarters,” said the FTC.
Senator Salazar reportedly was pulled aside at an airport in Texas when he was returning to Belize from an official trip to Taiwan. Salazar denied that he was questioned by US authorities over the SBE.
The FTC said, “In fact, Salazar was in the room when Pelayo and Ellis taught SBE telemarketers how to sell AIBL’s services to Americans. Salazar also provided legal advice to a Coldwell banker franchise SBE established to help further the fraud.”
Senator Salazar sent demand letters to consumers when they stopped paying SBE and ignored their complaints, the FTC pointed out.
“Glenford Ysaguirre (then the Governor of the Central Bank) wrote to Joy Grant (then the head of an anti-financial crimes authority, who has since replaced Ysaguirre as the Central Bank’s Governor), with respect to the Sanctuary Belize development. Ysaguirre warned Grant about. evidence of fraud and money laundering with this project.
“Yet, neither the Central Bank nor any other Belizean authority did anything about the ‘massive fraud,’ which continued unabated until two years later, when the District Court in Maryland enjoined it at the FTC’s request,” said the FTC submission.
The FTC’s submission also stated that the State Department has described “Belmopan as being a high-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.”
“Pukke had threatened people who crossed him”, the FTC said, “and the prominent attorney for IOSB (Independent Owners of Sanctuary Belize) litigating against SBE in Belize was fatally shot in his home during pretrial proceedings (local authorities claimed it was a suicide).”
The FTC argued that “Substantial doubt exists regarding whether the FTC would receive fair treatment in Belize, because the Belizean government supported the fraud.”
“For several reasons, ‘substantial doubt’ exists regarding whether Belizean authorities would fairly adjudicate claims the FTC asserts. First, SBE exerts substantial influence throughout the Belizean government.
“In addition to the Prime Minister’s involvement (both directly and through his law firm), SBE also employed two Belizean legislators (Salazar and Contreras), and miraculously obtained a judicial defamation finding that Pukke is purportedly not involved with Sanctuary Belize,” said the FTC.