Court backs FTC’s $120 million settlement in Belizean real estate scheme
On August 28, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted the FTC’s request for four individuals and the remaining corporate defendants who have not yet settled (collectively, “defendants”) to pay over $120 million in redress to resolve allegations the defendants operated an international real estate investment development scheme. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in November 2018, the FTC initiated the action against the individuals, several corporate entities, and a Belizean bank, asserting that the defendants violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by advertising and selling parcels of land that were part of a luxury development in Belize through the use of deceptive tactics and claims. The FTC contends that consumers who purchased lots in the development purchased the lots outright or made large down payments and sizeable monthly payments, and paid monthly homeowners association fees, and that defendants used the money received from these payments to fund their “high-end lifestyles,” rather than to invest in the development. In September 2019, the FTC settled with the Belizean bank, requiring the bank to pay $23 million in equitable relief, including consumer redress (covered by InfoBytes here).
Following a trial, the district court has now agreed with the FTC, concluding that the remaining defendants violated the FTC Act and the TSR. The court found the defendants jointly and severally liable for over $120 million in restitution and granted the FTC’s request for permanent injunctions—banning the defendants from any telemarketing activity and banning one defendant, described as “nothing less than the mastermind” of the operations, from “engaging in any kind of real estate activity” in the future.