Did a Ponzi scheme flourish under Georgia regulators’ noses?

Jim Torchia unedited

Jim Torchia, seen here outside the Cherokee County courthouse on Feb. 1, has been accused of running a massive Ponzi scheme by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He says the SEC doesn’t understand his business. JOHNNY EDWARDS / JREDWARDS@AJC.COM

Betting on death helped Jim Torchia build his fortune. He bought life insurance policies from the sick and elderly at a discount, then cashed in when they died.

The niche industry brought in millions of dollars. There were private charter jets, gambling trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, stretch limousines, fast cars and motorcycles and his own bar, according to court records in an array of cases.

Now federal authorities want to tear his empire down, saying the Woodstock businessman’s network of investment companies, subprime auto loan businesses and limited liability companies amount to an elaborate Ponzi scheme.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission says Torchia lured in elderly and unsophisticated investors with ads aired on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, then raided their money as if it were his own personal piggy bank.

A onetime insider in Jim Torchia's company, ex-CFO Michael Sullivan, at center, has gone public about his former best friend. He says Torchia cheated him out of company money, has been harassing him and his wife, and once hired ruffians to "send a real message" to an opposing litigant. Torchia, who is at right in this photo, calls the ex-CFO a liar and a "con artist." CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

A onetime insider in Jim Torchia’s company, ex-CFO Michael Sullivan, at center, has gone public about his former best friend. Torchia, who is at right in this photo, calls the ex-CFO a liar and a “con artist.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The specter of hundreds of people losing their savings across a swath of Southern states raises questions about whether Georgia regulators, who tangled with Torchia for years, did all they could to enforce securities laws.

Torchia maintains the SEC doesn’t understand the value of his businesses, and none of his investors are at risk of losing.

“I will take (this) company to $1 billion,” he said in December, in an email to one of his former salesman who he is suing . “Trust me. I have never done anything dishonest in my life. So the SEC can go (expletive) themselves.”

You can read the AJC’s in-depth investigative story about Torchia here, or pick up Sunday’s newspaper.

 

 

 


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