A Belizean bank has been charged by the FTC for “assisting and facilitating … the scam.”
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Nov. 8, 2018– 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.