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Charges Filed In Case Targeting Haitian Americans

 WASHINGTON - United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida has announced that Maxo Francois, a/k/a Max Francois, Jean Fritz Montinard, Aiby Pierre-Louis and Maguy Nerus, a/k/a Maguy Jean-Louis, were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1349 and 1956(h). The criminal charges are for their roles in a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme which targeted the South Florida Haitian-American Community. According to the Indictment, Focus Development Center, Inc. and Focus Financial Group, Inc. a/k/a Focus Financial Associates (collectively "Focus Financial") issued and sold 12-month promissory notes to investors providing for a guaranteed 15% annual return. The defendants induced investors to purchase these notes by making presentations in community churches and on the radio, falsely claiming that Focus Financial used the funds to create Haitian-American businesses and jobs, that the businesses generated sufficient profits to pay 15% annual returns, and that investors' principal was safe and secure. In reality, Focus Financial and its affiliated businesses never generated sufficient profits to pay annual returns and, instead, the defendants used new investor funds to pay principal and interest payments to earlier investors. The Indictment further charges that as a result of the scheme, the defendants raised $8 million from more than 600 Haitian-American investors living in South Florida who ultimately suffered losses of approximately $6 million.

On June 9, 2005, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil injunctive action against Focus Financial and its principals, Francois, Montinard and Pierre-Louis, charging them with violations of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. The SEC subsequently obtained judgments against each of the defendants, providing for full permanent injunctive relief, holding each of the defendants jointly and severally liable for disgorgement in the amount of $5.9 million, plus prejudgment interest thereon, and ordering them to pay civil penalties in the amount of $120,000 each.

On September 29, 2005, the SEC's Miami Regional Office and the State of Florida Office of Financial Regulation held an investor education and outreach program in North Miami, Florida, in English and with Creole translators, to provide information to Focus Financial victims and provide information to the Haitian-American community about avoiding financial scams.

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