SEATTLE - Kirkland investment advisor Rhonda Breard has been charged with mail fraud for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from investors in a Ponzi scheme that she has been running for years.
Breard, 47, arrived at the Federal Courthouse in Seattle Wednesday morning where federal marshals took her into custody. After her first court appearance Wednesday afternoon, she was released on bond. A judge has ordered her not to spend more than $500 in any single transaction without government approval.
The state Department of Financial Institutions says as many as 25 investors could be out more than $8 million. It's money prosecutors allege was used to finance Breard's lavish lifestyle – multimillion dollar homes, a fleet of cars and a large stable of other kinds of high-end toys.
Court documents say she told investors the money would be placed in a variety of financial and insurance products, but instead she used the money for her own expenses and mailed phony statements to customers.
Prosecutors say some of the clients had invested with her for 20 years, and some trusted their money with her after hearing her speak about investing at classes at community colleges.
"Investigators are still determining the extent of the fraud," said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. "We are aggressively trying to learn information about her clients and assets, and we want any assets preserved for victims in this case. We will ask the court to impose a condition that Ms. Breard not dispose of any assets while the investigation into the full scope of the fraud continues."
"If someone is not watching, it is easy to get away with this," said attorney Janissa Strabauck. She represents a woman who is out over $700,000.
Strabauck and lawyers representing other Breard clients say investment giant ING Financial Partners should have kept better watch over Breard, who was a broker with the company and selling investments under their name.
"They had a responsibility. This was a satellite office. They have rules and regulations that they are supposed to keep an eye on these folks.
ING wouldn't comment on criminal charges, but says it's disappointed that a civil case was also filed before the investigation is over. ING says it plans to defend itself.
"That money is my retirement. You know, when I stop working, that is the money I have to live on the rest of my life until I die," said Gordon Overbye, one of Breard's clients, and now, an alleged victim. He says he's out $880,000.
Breard was silent as she left the courthouse. Reporters surrounded her when she walked, asking her where the money was.
Mail fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.