The head of collapsed US futures broker Peregrine Financial Group was arrested Friday on criminal charges, days after he apparently attempted suicide and confessed to fraud in a signed statement.
Russell Wasendorf, the sole owner and chief executive of Iowa-based PFG, admitted in the suicide note that he had embezzled millions of dollars from clients over 20 years.
The company’s accounts have a shortfall of about $200 million, according to a US regulator who sued the company Tuesday.
A US federal court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa said Friday that Wasendorf, 64, was charged with making false statements about customer funds.
He was due to appear in court later Friday.
“The complaint alleges that, from 2010 through July of 2012, Wasendorf made false statements to the United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) regarding the value of customer segregated funds held by Wasendorf’s company, Peregrine Financial Group, Inc.,” the court said in a statement.
According to the complaint, filed by the FBI, emergency personnel responding Monday to a 911 emergency call found Wasendorf “unresponsive” in his automobile, along with an apparent suicide note to his wife.
In addition, a signed statement was found inside the vehicle detailing fraud committed by Wasendorf through PFG over the past 20 years.
“I have committed fraud. For this I feel constant and intense guilt,” Wasendorf wrote.
“Through a scheme of using false bank statements I have been able to embezzle millions of dollars from customer accounts.”
The forgeries went undetected for nearly 20 years, he said, because he had sole access to the company’s accounts at US Bank.
Wasendorf said he used a combination of Photo Shop, Excel, scanners and printers to make “very convincing forgeries.”
“With careful concealment and blunt authority I was able to hide my fraud from others at PFG.”
When online banking became prevalent, he said he learned how to falsify online bank statements.
“The regulators accepted them without question.”
The Iowa court said that Wasendorf was interviewed by law enforcement personnel at the University of Iowa Hospital on Monday, and Wasendorf acknowledged he had written the statement and that the information it contained was true.
PFG, also known as PFG Best, filed Tuesday for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which involves the sale of assets to pay off creditors.
The action came hours after the CFTC sued PFG and Wasendorf, alleging they had falsified information in filings and overstated the company’s bank deposits.
The CFTC said the firm had a shortfall that currently exceeds $200 million.
“The whereabouts of the funds is currently unknown,” the CFTC said.
On Monday the National Futures Association, responsible for monitoring PFG for compliance with reporting requirements, took an emergency enforcement action against PFG and Peregrine Asset Management.
The NFA blocked new or additional customer accounts or funds, alleging PFG had failed to prove it had met capital and segregated funds requirements.
On Friday, other regulators indicated they were looking into the situation.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission is reviewing records to determine where there are securities customer funds missing, SEC spokesman John Nester said.
A spokeswoman for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, told AFP that “FINRA reps have been on-site at Peregrine’s Cedar Falls offices to look into the firm.”