San Diego, California - An indictment unsealed Monday charges four individuals, including a securities attorney, with securities fraud for running an illegal pump-and-dump scheme surrounding two publicly-traded stocks. The investigation that led to these charges involved a co-conspirator-turned-confidential-informant who was cooperating with the FBI.
According to court documents, Ongkaruck Sripetch (a resident of Gig Harbor, Washington, who used the aliases “King Richards” and “Shelby Saint-Claire”), Canadian resident Michael Wexler, Canadian resident and securities attorney Ashmit Patel, and Grand Cayman resident Andrew McAlpine were members of a stock fraud ring who worked together to artificially inflate the prices of penny stocks, then quickly unload their own shares before the prices collapsed. The defendants did not know that, while the scheme was underway, one of their partners had begun cooperating with the Government’s investigation and was collecting evidence against his co-conspirators.
Defendant McAlpine was arrested Friday when he entered the United States from Grand Cayman, and defendant Sripetch was also arrested Friday, in Gig Harbor, Washington. The United States is seeking the arrest of defendants Patel and Wexler.
As alleged in the indictment, a pump-and-dump scheme takes place when subjects acquire publicly-traded stock at low prices, issue misleading news releases or promotional materials to artificially increase the price of the stock, sell the stock to unsuspecting investors, and split the proceeds. The stock fraud ring charged here carried out pump-and-dump schemes on the stock of two companies: Ottawa, Canada-based VMS Rehab Systems, which claimed to sell “quality of life orthopedic seat cushions for the home healthcare sector,” and Argus Worldwide, a company headquartered in Cheyenne, Wyoming, which purportedly focused on “digital/internet products and services, smart consumer electronic products and health industries.”
“These defendants sought to boost the stock price of two companies, and then leave innocent investors with investments that they knew would almost immediately lose most or all of their value,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “We will continue to investigate and prosecute this type of stock fraud.” Brewer praised prosecutors Andrew Galvin and Aaron Arnzen, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Securities and Exchange Commission for their investigation in this case.
“The FBI's complex financial crimes investigators diligently work securites fraud cases like this pump-and-dump scheme in order to maintain the integrity of our financial markets,” said Suzanne Turner, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's San Diego Division. “Today, Grand Cayman resident Andrew McAlpine and co-conspirator Ongkaruck Sripetch were arrested by FBI Agents and will face the charges for this alleged conspiracy. The FBI will continue to seek justice for those who are victmized by unscrupulous actors that manipulate our financial markets no matter where they reside.”
The indictment also alleges that, as part of the scheme, the conspirators traded the stock of VMS Rehab and Argus Worldwide between themselves. They made these trades to create the appearance that investors were genuinely interested in and actively trading the stocks. Sadly for victim investors, it was a façade – this manipulative trading was just part of defendants’ effort to entice investors to purchase VMS Rehab and Argus Worldwide stock at artificially high prices.
DEFENDANTS Case Number 20cr0160-H
Ongkaruck Sripetch Age: 45 Gig Harbor, WA
aka King Richards
aka Shelby Saint-Claire
Michael Wexler Age: 74 Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Ashmit Patel Age: 36 Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Andrew McAlpine Age: 47 Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Conspiracy to Commit Securities Fraud – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 371
Securities Fraud – Title 15, U.S.C., Sections 78j(b), 78ff, and Title 17, C.F.R., Section 240.10b-5
Manipulative Securities Trading – Title 15, U.S.C., Sections 78i(a)(1), 78ff.
Maximum penalty: Twenty years in prison and $5 million fine
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Securities and Exchange Commission
*The charges and allegations contained in an indictment or complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.