More than five years after the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that J.V. Huffman operated a massive Ponzi scheme that raised more than $25 million from at least 350 investors, the court-appointed receiver has announced that those victims will soon receive a first, and likely final, distribution check representing 10.5% of their losses. Walt Pettit, the court-appointed receiver for Huffman and his company, Biltmore Financial Group, Inc. (“Biltmore”), indicated in a letter to victims that the check represented the fruits of a five-year effort to recover funds, and would likely be the only distribution absent any further recovery.
The SEC filed an emergency enforcement action against Huffman in November 2008, charging him with violations of the anti-fraud provisions of federal securities laws in connection with Huffman’s operation of Biltmore. While Huffman initially started Biltmore in the early 1990’s as a mutual fund, he sought to placate investor fears after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 by repositioning the company as a buyer and seller of mortgages. Many of Huffman’s more-than 350 investors were members of the Lutheran community around his North Carolina home, and were drawn to the scheme by Huffman’s guarantees of steady profits at market rates and the guarantee that the investment would not lose money and was insured by the FDIC, SIPC, and Thrivent Financial Services.
After the scheme collapsed in November 2008, Huffman confessed to authorities that investor funds were not used to purchase mortgages, but rather were used in typical Ponzi fashion to pay returns to existing investors, as well as to sustain a lavish lifestyle that included the purchase of an Aston Martin luxury car, a $1 million recreational vehicle, and vacation and rental properties. Huffman later pleaded guilty to criminal charges, and was sentenced to a thirty-year prison term in January 2010.
The Receiver’s appointment was initially complicated by the seizure of both Huffman and Biltmore’s books and records by criminal authorities, which apparently hindered the ability to gain an understanding of the scheme’s inner-workings. Additionally, while a significant amount of jewelry, real estate, and personal property were seized by the Receivership, their realizable value was depressed as the Receivership coincided with the financial crisis of 2008 – 2010. According to the Receiver, many of the properties were not receiving high enough offers to pass muster with overseeing U.S. District Judge Richard Voorhees, who ultimately was tasked with approving the sale of Receivership property.
In the Receiver’s final report, Pettit reported recovering a total of $3.26 million. Of that amount, approximately $750,000 was allotted to expenses due to the Receiver and his professionals, leaving $2.49 million available for distribution. This distribution ultimately amounted to 10.567% of victims’ approved losses.