A Poway man accused of stealing almost $8 million from dozens of people, mostly senior citizens, through an elaborate Ponzi-style scheme spanning half a decade was charged Friday with 82 felonies, including grand theft, fraud and elder abuse.
Christopher Dougherty, 46, a former licensed insurance agent, is accused of schemes allegedly perpetrated against 31 families. Investigators believe as many as 26 additional victims could be added to the case in the future.
More than half of the charged victims are over 65 years of age, according to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors say Dougherty offered private investments for a variety of companies he owned, including a 100-acre organic cattle ranch and marijuana growing project in Alpine that allegedly didn’t generate any profits for investors.
Investors, many of whom met Dougherty when he was designated as an investment advisor by several local school districts, complained about not received profits and were given funds provided by more recent investors, “in classic Ponzi fashion,” according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Much of the investor funds allegedly supported personal endeavors and uses, like home remodeling, travel, college tuition and large cash withdrawals.
“This was a classic Ponzi scheme where the defendant stole millions from trusting families and senior citizens. These aren’t rich investors, they’re people who worked hard and trusted their life savings with someone who preyed on their vulnerabilities,” said DA Summer Stephan.
Dougherty and his investment companies also are being charged by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for the alleged Ponzi scheme, in which he “took advantage of his clients’ trust by using their retirement savings” to perpetuate the scheme, according to Michele Wein Layne, director of the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office.
Dougherty and his wife filed for bankruptcy in federal court last October, prosecutors said.
He faces up to 35 years in state prison if convicted of all counts.
Bail was set at $5 million during a Friday afternoon arraignment, though Deputy District Attorney Michael Zachry requested a 1275.1 bail hold be placed, which would require Dougherty to prove that any money he used to post bond came from a legitimate source.
He’s due to return to court May 7 for a readiness conference.
— City News Service