SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Federal prosecutors say a San Francisco man has been charged with defrauding investors of $25 million in a residential property Ponzi scheme.

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said 31-year-old Maher Talal Muhawieh allegedly persuaded at least 80 people to lend him money by promising high returns on their investments in properties he would purchase, renovate and resell.

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FBI investigators allege that instead, early investors were reimbursed with funds from later lenders while Muhawieh used some of the proceeds for personal expenses and to invest in retail businesses.

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Muhawieh pleaded not guilty during his first court appearance Friday.

Muhawieh’s lawyer, Stuart Hanlon, says his client intended to help fellow Palestinian immigrants make money but was not able to fulfill his promises after California’s housing market collapsed.

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