Man Convicted of Investment Fraud Scheme in Belize

Man Convicted of Investment Fraud Scheme in Belize

The North Justice Center in Fullerton in August 2022. (Google Maps/Screenshot via California Insider)

City News Service

City News Service

4/23/2024

Updated: 4/23/2024

FULLERTON, Calif.—A man was convicted April 22 of ripping off seniors in a purported investment scheme in Belize.
Leo Delgado was convicted by a jury at the North Justice Center in Fullerton of three counts of grand theft and six counts of money laundering, all felonies, with sentencing enhancements for aggravated white collar crime between $100,000 and $500,000.
Mr. Delgado was scheduled to be sentenced May 17.
The man was convicted of stealing from two couples and a woman. He told them he was the owner of Innovative Steel Structures and Design and Turquoise management with offices in Irvine, prosecutors said in a trial brief.
He pitched the victims on a 14,000-acre development called Sanctuary Belize, a luxurious resort community to include a hospital with U.S. doctors, a championship golf course, a casino, hotel, an airport, a 250-slip marina, and a village with high-end boutiques, restaurants, cafes, and a grocery store, prosecutors said.
The development was built, but did not include the amenities, and investors lost money, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which won a lawsuit against the developers and began sending out about $10 million in refunds to investors in August.
The FTC won a $200 million judgment last year for 200 victims.
Most of the executives involved in the enterprise had offices in Newport Beach and Irvine, prosecutors said.
The investment scheme was “aggressively” advertised through the country with some investors buying property without even seeing it, prosecutors said.
One woman in the criminal trial was induced to buy property after seeing a telemarketing video and did not visit Belize to view the land, prosecutors said. She paid $162,704 for property, but no work was done, prosecutors said.
The land was acquired for $282,123 in March 2017, and for about two years Mr. Delgado would continue asking for more money, sending her invoices for various work projects that were never done, prosecutors said.
About six months before she was supposed to move in, Mr. Delgado hiked up the price of the home between $750,000 to $1 million, prompting her to say she couldn’t afford it and ask for a refund, prosecutors said.
Mr. Delgado “suggested she should take out a $10 million life insurance policy and name him as beneficiary,” prosecutors said.
“She did not know whether or not to take this as a threat,” prosecutors said. “It did cause her to be in fear for her life.”
She never got her money back and learned none of the work was done, prosecutors said.
The victim “had hoped to move to Belize to start a new life after her only son was killed in a car accident not long before this,” prosecutors said. “The defendant was aware of her great loss and reason for trying to move to Belize.”
Another couple bought land in April 2017 for $100,000 and said their budget for a home was $190,000 to $200,000, prosecutors said. The couple sent money to the defendant after receiving invoices and eventually he raised the price of the project, prosecutors said.
When the couple paid $82,814.95, Mr. Delgado told them the final price would be $1.2 million, prosecutors said. When they balked, he said they could finance the rest through him, prompting them to ask for a refund, prosecutors said.
“The defendant claimed it was all spent on jungle clearing and manufacturing costs, which could not be true as the home had not even been ordered yet and the land had not been cleared,” prosecutors said.
Another couple paid $135,000 in November 2016 for a container home with a project estimated to cost between $200,000 to $300,000, prosecutors said.
The couple visited Belize a handful of times in 2017 to see the property, but no improvements were made, prosecutors said.
Mr. Delgado started charging the couple for his own air travel in 2018 to Korea, Japan, and for lodging and food, prosecutors said. When they finally paid $153,000 to the defendant, he said the final price would be $1.3 million, prompting the victims to ask for a refund, which they never received, prosecutors said.
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