Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Michigan State Police (MSP) Director Colonel Kriste Kibbey Etue announced the success of Michigan's student safety initiative, OK2SAY, in its first semester. Since the start of this school year, OK2SAY has already generated 410 confidential tips submitted by Michigan students. These tips included reports of bullying, suicide threats, and child abuse. "If even one child's life is saved by OK2SAY, this program will have been a success. OK2SAY has passed its first semester with flying colors," said Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Read more: 410 Tips Received by OK2SAY!
- Schuette Announces Guilty Conviction for Joel Wilson, Ponzi Schemer and Former Fugitive
March 5, 2015
LANSING – Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced a Bay County jury has convicted Joel Wilson, 32, of Saginaw, on nine felony charges for his role in an extensive Michigan Ponzi scheme. Wilson defrauded hundreds of Michigan victims out of millions of dollars. In January 2014, Schuette launched extradtion efforts to retrieve Wilson from Germany after he was on the lam in Europe for more than a year. The charges were filed following an Attorney General investigation.
"I am pleased we have secured justice for the vicitms who lost their life savings," said Schuette. "Financial exploitation is a growing crime in Michigan, and we are cracking down on these con artists. Be skeptical of anyone who promises huge returns for a small investment."
Background on Joel Wilson, Diversified Group
As Attorney General investigators closed in on Wilson's operation in late 2012, he fled the country for Germany. Schuette filed multiple criminal charges against Wilson in January 2013 and worked with federal officials to issue a warrant for his arrest in Europe. On January 20, 2014, Wilson was arrested in Germany by Dresden Police. On January 21, 2014, Schuette's office received notification from INTERPOL that Wilson had been arrested by European law enforcement and summarily filed paperwork to extradite Wilson from Germany to face trial for his pending criminal charges in Michigan. Wilson was successfully extradited on May 15, 2014.
Beginning in 2009, Wilson scammed investors through his operation of The Diversified Group Advisory Fund LLC, an investment company. Wilson told investors that he would use their funds to purchase distressed properties in the Saginaw and Bay City areas. The properties would later be refurbished and sold for profit, which would go to investors.
When funds Wilson collected from the sales of the unregistered securities failed to turn a profit, he used new investor funds to pay returns to previous investors - the trademark of a Ponzi scheme. In addition, Wilson pocketed approximately $583,000 of the investment funds to pay his personal expenses and acquire personal assets.
Additionally, Wilson failed to disclose the risks associated with the actual investment in question—a highly leveraged real estate investment that could result in the loss of all of the investors' money. Many investors, including senior citizens, risked their life savings.
Conviction Equals Victory for Diversified Group Victims
Wilson was convicted today of the following charges filed in Bay County District Court on January 8, 2013:
- One count of Continuing Criminal Enterprise (Racketeering), a felony punishable by up to twenty years in prison;
- Three counts of Sale of Unregistered Securities, a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison;
- One count of Larceny by Conversion ($20,000 or more), a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison;
- One count of Larceny by Conversion ($1,000-$20,000), a felony punishable by up to five years in prison; and,
- Three counts of Fraudulent Sale of Securities, a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison.
Following Schuette's felony charges against Wilson, additional victims have come forward with allegations against Wilson and the Diversified Group. Wilson may face additional charges pending the outcome of investigation into those cases.
Wilson, who is currently being held in Bay County Jail, will return for sentencing in Bay County Circuit Court before Judge Joseph K. Sheeran on April 27, 2015 at 1:30 pm.
Second Diversified Employee Also Convicted of Nine Felonies
In September 2013, Schuette announced felony charges against a second person for perpetrating Wilson's scheme. In March 2014, Shawn Dicken, 40, Bay City, was convicted of nine felonies, one count of Criminal Enterprises, one count of Embezzlement From A Vulnerable Adult, and seven counts of False Pretenses. Dicken was sentenced on June 19, 2014 to 11 years, eight months to 20 years in prison by Midland County Circuit Court before Judge Stephen P. Carras.
Dicken was convicted of charges concerning her role as a salesperson in the Diversified Group Advisory Firm LLC Ponzi scheme. Dicken allegedly failed to disclose the risks associated with the actual investment in question - a highly leveraged real estate investment that could result in the loss of all of the investors' money. Many investors risked their life savings. Dicken swindled investors out of more than two million dollars by using dishonest tactics. Investigation revealed Dicken allegedly took an eight percent commission, pocketing approximately $160,000 for herself.
Citizens who believe they may have been victims of Joel Wilson or The Diversified Group are encouraged to file complaints with the Attorney General's Office at http://www.michigan.gov/ag by clicking "File a Complaint."
Consumer Tips For Safe Investing
Schuette encourages Michigan citizens to exercise caution before investing their money with those who promise exorbitant returns.
"Do your homework before handing over your hard-earned money," said Schuette. "Take your time, ask questions, and be sure to confirm your broker is in good standing with the State before signing on the dotted line."
Key tips to avoid falling victim to a Ponzi scheme or investment fraud include:
Check out your broker or adviser. Confirm that your broker or financial adviser is registered and in good standing. Contact the Bureau of Commercial Services with the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, at 517-241-6345, to check out your broker or adviser.
- Beware of strangers touting strange deals. Trusting strangers is a mistake anyone can make when it comes to their personal finances. Almost anyone can sound nice or honest on the telephone. Say "no" to any investment professional who presses you to make an immediate decision, giving you no opportunity to check out the salesperson, firm and the investment opportunity itself. Beware of anyone who suggests investing your money into something you don't understand or who urges that you leave everything in his or her hands.
Take your time - don't be rushed into investment decisions. Salespersons who use high-pressure tactics to force an investor into an immediate decision are almost always pitching frauds. They don't want you to think too carefully or find out too much because you may figure out that it's a scam.
Keep tabs on your investments. Be wary when a financial planner says "leave everything to me," or "the plan is too complicated to tell you." Everything should be clear and explainable to you.
Monitor the activity on your account. Insist on receiving regular statements.
Ask Questions. Never be embarrassed or apologetic about asking questions for trading activity that looks excessive or unauthorized. It's your money, not your broker's.
Keep Diligent Records. Keep all of your records relating to your investments, including notes of conversations you have with brokers, salespeople, and financial advisers.
Consumers can find helpful advice and a list of questions to consider in Attorney General Schuette's Consumer Alert for Ponzi Schemes, available on Schuette's website at http://1.usa.gov/AGPonziAlert. Attorney General Schuette also offers specialized consumer advice for Michigan seniors on how to avoid investment fraud through the Senior Brigade website, http://bit.ly/investmentfraud.
- Schuette Congratulates Michigan Realtors® On Their Centennial Celebration
March 4, 2015
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today issued the following statement congratulating Michigan Realtors® on their 100th anniversary:
"For 100 years, the Michigan Realtors® have been proficient advocates in our state on important issues like protecting private property rights, reducing burdensome taxes and regulations on business, and preserving the American Dream of home ownership," said Schuette. "Michigan Realtors® are moving our state forward and ensuring Michigan's tomorrows are bright for future generations. Congratulations, Michigan Realtors®, on 100 years of excellence."
Schuette provided the keynote address at the Michigan Realtors®' Centennial Luncheon today during their legislative day at the Lansing Center.
- Schuette Statement on Michigan Human Trafficking Commission
March 4, 2015
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today made the following statement to commemorate the establishment of the standing Michigan Human Trafficking Commission:
"Human trafficking is a plague in our society that must be eradicated. I am proud the legislature and Governor Snyder have placed their trust in the Department of the Attorney General to pursue this highest of priorities. To those who choose to enslave our daughters and sons and traffic them for profit, we are putting you on notice: we will aggressively prosecute any traffickers we identify. My department will work with the Michigan Human Trafficking Commission to advocate for trafficked victims and ask every citizen of our great state to be a sentinel for justice in your own communities. Together we can stop the evil that preys on our most vulnerable citizens."
The Michigan Human Trafficking Commission was created by Public Act 325 of 2014 and signed into law by Governor Snyder. The 15 member Commission is housed in the Michigan Department of Attorney General. Learn more about the Commission's role and mission. Learn more about Michigan's first-ever Commission on Human Trafficking, co-chaired by Schuette and read the report.
- Schuette Files Felony Criminal Sexual Conduct Charges Against Southwest Michigan Man
March 3, 2015
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced that his Criminal Division in collaboration with the Michigan State Police have charged Cary Jones, 46, of Three Rivers for multiple counts of felony Criminal Sexual Conduct against children. The alleged crimes occurred at a home daycare, of which he was a resident.
"Parents trust daycare providers to keep a watchful eye over their children while they themselves aren't there," said Schuette. "Michigan's children are too precious and we must do everything we can to protect them from harm."
Jones was home during a majority of the time that the children were being supervised by an employee at the daycare. He often provided transportation from school to the daycare and would sometimes be left alone with the children at the residence.
On March 2, 2015, Schuette and the Michigan State Police filed the following charges against Cary Jones in St. Joseph County's 3B District Court:
One count of Criminal Sexual Conduct - First Degree, a felony punishable by up to life in prison, but according to the charges, Jones could face a minimum of 25 years in prison; and,
Eight counts of Criminal Sexual Conduct - Second Degree, a felony punishable by up to fifteen years in prison.
Jones is expected to be arraigned on March 3, 2015 in St. Joseph County's 3B District Court. He is currently being held at the St. Joseph County jail.
A criminal charge is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
- Schuette Releases Top Ten Michigan Consumer Complaints List
March 2, 2015
LANSING – Attorney General Bill Schuette today marked National Consumer Protection week by releasing his annual list of the Top Ten Consumer Complaints in Michigan and highlighting his Department's free educational resources. Schuette's Top Ten List is compiled by analyzing the more than 10,500 written complaints filed with the Attorney General's Consumer Protection team in 2014. Schuette's Consumer Protection team also recovered nearly $2 million in consumer refunds and forgiven debts and more than $4.2 million in State recoveries in 2014.
"Consumer protection isn't just one program," said Schuette. "It's a philosophy that guides everything we do. We emphasize safe social media use for students and fight to protect seniors from scams and fraud. We also defend consumers by exposing insurance fraud and price fixing, guarding against bogus charities, and prosecuting home foreclosure scams."
Credit and Financial Concerns Top Complaint List
In 2014, Credit and Financial Concerns once again topped the list with the Consumer Protection team receiving 865 complaints on debt collection and credit reporting. Consumers often voice concerns regarding aggressive debt collection tactics used by debt collection agencies. Debt collection scams, or phony debt collectors trying to scare consumers into giving money to pay off fraudulent debts, continues to remain common.
"While debt collectors have the right to contact you on legitimate debts, they never have the right to threaten, intimidate, or harass you," said Schuette.
Schuette's Consumer Alert on Debt Collection and Debt Collection Scams details prohibited debt collector practices and provides tips on avoiding common debt collection scams and disputing bogus debts.
Consumer Education Key to Prevention
During National Consumer Protection Week, Schuette's office joins consumer advocacy groups and governmental agencies from across the nation to highlight how individuals and families can protect themselves from abusive practices and scams.
Schuette noted one of the best ways to safeguard citizens from commercial exploitation is by equipping them with the information necessary to avoid becoming the target of a scam. The Top Ten Complaint List is one useful component of this information-sharing effort. By highlighting the most problematic product and service categories, the List encourages consumers to engage in commercial transactions with a heightened level of caution.
Top 10 Consumer Complaint Categories of 2014
Credit and Financial Concerns: The top complaint category for 2014 held on to the spot that it has had since 2006 generating almost 1,700 complaints in a variety of areas including debt collection, credit repair, payday lending, and mortgage brokering.
Gasoline, Fuel, and Energy: Rising all the way from number 8 in 2013, propane complaints dominated this category last year. In 2014, Attorney General Schuette secured agreements with two companies relating to their propane prices and helped more than 6,200 customers obtain more than $600,000 in relief.
Telecommunications, Cable, and Satellite TV: Maintaining the third spot from the previous year, this category includes complaints involving issues like robocalls, telemarketing, and cable and satellite TV services. These categories made up almost 1,000 of the complaints in 2014.
Retail: This category also ranked fourth for the second year in a row includes complaints about merchandise quality, warranty, and pricing disputes.
Motor Vehicle and Automobiles: Rising back to number 5, disputes with used car dealers, automotive repair service complaints, and lemon law violations are included in this category.
Personal Service Providers: Falling back to number 6, complaints in this category range from dating services and beauty shops to home security and health and fitness organizations.
Internet: Complaints in this computer-based category numbered more than 600. Included are issues with internet service providers, online auction disputes, and fraudulent e-mail solicitations.
Landlord and Tenant: Rising one spot to number 8 in 2014, this category made up nearly 500 complaints. A majority of the complaints in this category involved apartment owners and managers.
Health Service Providers: Also rising one spot from 2013, this category involves complaints about different health service providers like doctors, dentists, and hospitals.
Contractors: Absent from last year's list and rounding out the top ten are complaints about landscaping services, special trade contractors, and residential building construction services.
Emerging Consumer Threats in 2015
Consistent with the theme that it is important to prevent victimization, Schuette takes this opportunity to look ahead and warn consumers about what many predict will be increasing threats in 2015.
Ransomware has been identified as an emerging threat to Michigan consumers in 2015. Ransomware is a type of malware that restricts access to the computer system that it infects, and demands a ransom paid to the creator of the malware in order for the restriction to be removed. For more information, see Attorney General Schuette's Consumer Alert on Ransomware
The next biggest scam is expected to be through the use of mobile payment systems. Mobile payment systems are a relatively new field for both consumers and thieves. The most likely way consumers will be taken advantage of will be by downloading what looks like payment apps to their phones, and ending up with a virus that steals money instead. To protect yourself, only download payment apps that you know are from a trusted source, and remember to know where your phone is, set up strong passwords, and always protect your financial information.
Schuette also advises consumers to be wary of how they use technology when providing personal information. Information can be stolen when provided over unsecured public wireless networks. Never log into your bank or other financial accounts over a public network and never provide personal information in response to unsolicited requests of any kind. Monitor your financial accounts and if you see suspicious transactions, contact your provider. If you feel you have been a victim of a scam, file a complaint with the consumer protection division.
How to File Complaints
Schuette encourages any residents with questions or concerns to contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division toll-free by calling 1-877-765-8388. To file a consumer complaint, Michigan residents can submit an online complaint through the Attorney General's website or mail a letter explaining the problem and desired resolution to:
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette
Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909