SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — California Attorney Xavier Becerra on Thursday announced the arrests of three individuals — including one in Contra Costa County — involved in an alleged $10 million Ponzi scheme that targeted more than 70 victims around the world.

Charges have been filed against Christopher Mancuso, John Black and Joseph Tufo for allegedly operating a multimillion-dollar investment fraud scheme that allegedly lured victims in by promising incredible returns on their investments with little to no risk. But instead of making investments, the defendants were keeping the victims’ money and splitting it between the three parties.

A release issued by the State District Attorney’s Office stated that on Thursday, Mancuso was arrested in Orange County while Tufo was taken into custody in Contra Costa County. Black remains at large with his last known whereabouts in and around Sacramento County.

As part of Thursday’s actions, the California Department of Justice also secured orders freezing the assets of all three defendants, including bank accounts, cryptocurrency and real property. The criminal complaint charges the defendants with a total of 32 felonies for operating a fraudulent securities scheme, grand theft, and investment fraud.

“It takes a particular kind of callousness to rob people of their life’s savings by selling them on false hope,” said Attorney General Becerra. “That’s the kind of fraud the defendants in this case have allegedly committed. We’re talking about as much money as some families earn in an entire year gone in just an instant. These are savings that can mean all the difference in getting a child through college or being able to retire. Unfortunately, these kinds of scams aren’t new. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.”

The charges and arrests announced Thursday came about through a joint effort by California Department of Justice prosecutors and special agents in the White Collar Investigations Team. The criminal complaint announced alleges that between March of 2015 and January of 2020, the defendants willfully and unlawfully engaged in fraud and deceit to rob victims of millions of dollars.

In total, the defendants are estimated to have allegedly stolen more than $10 million from victims around the world, including California, other states, Canada, Germany, England, and Italy.

Individual victims allegedly lost a minimum of tens of thousands of dollars each by being fraudulently induced by the defendants to invest in Financial Tree Trust, Financial Solutions Group Trust, and New Money Advisors, LLC. In some instances, victims were allegedly defrauded of their savings by being told that they could triple an investment of $25,000 in just four months. In another instance, the defendants allegedly promised to quadruple an investment of $100,000 in just three months.

When the investments came due, the defendants would allegedly ignore calls and emails or tell various lies, including that there were delays being caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of returning the money, the defendants allegedly mainly kept it for their own personal financial gain.

The release issued by the State Attorney General’s Office said the action Thursday by the California Department of Justice is separate from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s civil case against the defendants.

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