A federal grand jury indicted two more people in an alleged Upstate Ponzi scheme as authorities expressed pessimism that much of $57 million owed to several hundred victims will be recovered.
U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles of South Carolina said Cassandra K. Wilson, 66, of Woodruff, and Timothy L. Wilson, 60, of Martin, Tenn., were indicted for allegedly conspiring to obstruct justice and hide assets from authorities investigating Atlantic Bullion & Coin in Easley.
The firm's president was former Anderson County Councilman Ronnie Gene Wilson, who is serving a 19-year federal prison sentence for mail fraud, court records show. Cassandra Wilson is his wife and Timothy Wilson is his brother, authorities said Tuesday.
The Wilsons couldn't be reached for comment. It wasn't known if Cassandra Wilson or Timothy Wilson had attorneys.
The new indictment charges Ronnie Wilson with allegedly conspiring to obstruct justice and hide assets and making false statements to federal agents, according to prosecutors and court records.
Prosecutors said 798 investors in the company lost $57.4 million in one of the largest schemes of its kind in South Carolina history.
Nettles said the maximum penalty for the conspiracy charge is five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
The maximum penalty Ronnie Wilson could face for the false statement charge is 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, Nettles said.
The case was investigated by U.S. Secret Service agents and assigned to Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Watkins in Greenville.
Watkins told reporters at a press conference in Greenville that assets that should have been turned over to a court-appointed receiver were hidden in ammunition canisters "full of cash, secreted from the receiver's office."
Gold and silver coins also were hidden from the receiver, Watkins said.
The alleged scheme entrapped surgeons, retired textile workers, teachers and lawyers, Watkins said.
"It was really an everyman type of conspiracy," he said.
Some investors lost tens of thousands of dollars while others lost "well over" $1 million, Watkins said. A number emptied their Individual Retirement Accounts, losing several hundred thousand dollars "that they had worked their whole lives to accumulate," he said.
"We are aggressively and actively pursuing all available assets, and we will do whatever we can within the law to get as much money back to the victims that have been defrauded," Nettles said.
Thus far, no reimbursements have been made to victims, said Beattie Ashmore, a Greenville attorney and receiver for Ronnie Wilson and Atlantic Bullion.
But Ashmore said he has recovered almost $400,000 in gold, silver and cash from Cassie Wilson and Tim Wilson in the last six months.
Those assets were delivered to them by Ronnie Wilson after his arrest in an effort to hide the assets from the receiver, Ashmore said.
He started the asset-recovery process "with almost nothing" but is "meeting with some early success," Ashmore said. Assets still to be sold or auctioned include Ronnie Wilson's farm, other real estate, cars and personal property, the receiver said.
"This indictment itself is quite a message and that is we're not going away," Ashmore said. "We are very much in the front-end of a number of these issues."
The indictment will be followed by a number of lawsuits against those who profited from the alleged Ponzi scheme, Ashmore said.
Still, he remains pessimistic substantial recovery will be made for the victims. Any return to investors likely will be "pennies on the dollar," he told reporters.
"Ron Wilson's money has been spent, it's been squandered, it's been secreted," Ashmore said.
Nettles said that since the original charges were brought against Ronnie Wilson and Atlantic Bullion & Coin in 2012, three other individuals have been convicted of charges related to the alleged Ponzi scheme and the hiding of assets.
Nettles said that on Feb. 26 of this year, Wallace Lindsey Howell, 62, of Mauldin, was sentenced for conspiracy to commit wire fraud. U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs of Greenville imposed a 12-month sentence and ordered Howell to pay $3.5 million in restitution, according to Nettles and federal court records.
Benton T. Hall of Mesa, Ariz., was sentenced for conspiracy to obstruct justice, Nettles said. Childs imposed a 24-month sentence and ordered Hall to pay $172,000 in restitution, according to Nettles and court records.
In April, Gordon L. Hall of Mesa, Ariz., was sentenced for wire fraud, Nettles said. Childs imposed a 180-month sentence and ordered Hall to pay $172,000 in restitution, according to Nettles and court records.
Prosecutors said the Halls were co-conspirators with Howell, who recommended Wilson's investment program to numerous people and received "commissions" from Wilson for investors he brought in.
In April 2006, Atlantic Bullion & Coin statements showed two clients made a profit because of silver trades Wilson allegedly made, prosecutors said. But prosecutors said Wilson never made real trades for any of his clients and, in fact, operated a Ponzi scheme.
Once Howell learned that Secret Service agents were investigating, he sought the Halls' assistance in hiding assets that allegedly had been acquired with Ponzi money, prosecutors said.
Howell was afraid that the federal receiver working to marshal assets related to Wilson's alleged Ponzi fraud would "claw back" the assets so they could be distributed to the victims, prosecutors said.
Howell transferred to the Halls approximately $1.5 million in property, gold and silver coins, equipment, and cash, prosecutors said. The Halls then worked to hide the money from the federal receiver and law enforcement officials, prosecutors said.