Crime

Bellefonte man pleads guilty to $1.4 million securities fraud

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A Bellefonte man who purportedly sold insurance products and annuities pleaded guilty to obtaining nearly $1.5 million under false pretenses, according to a court document filed on Thursday.

The criminal charge, which was first reported by PennLive, against 48-year-old James Hocker is similar to the civil lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in June.

Hocker was employed as an insurance agent in Milroy from 2001 to 2007 before he left and began selling products and annuities under James E. Hocker & Associates — an unregistered entity.

Hocker’s investors from 2009 through January were largely elderly retirees or individuals nearing retirement without significant investment experiences.

He gave investors stock quote sheets for the S&P 500 with the fraudulent representation that he would invest their funds, but he failed to do so. Hocker also gave investors promissory notes guaranteeing a certain rate of return on their funds.

“He knew that he was not investing any funds and that he could not possibly provide any guaranteed returns of 25 to 30 percent, or any ‘tax free growth,’” Assistant U.S. Attorney Alisan VanFleet said in a document filed in U.S. Middle District Court.

Rather than invest the funds, Hocker deposited them into several of his own bank accounts and into a joint checking account between he and his ex-wife. He used the money to pay personal expenditures, such as legal fees, spousal support, Uber and other unrelated expenses.

Hocker pleaded guilty to securities fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss — whichever is more — and five years of supervised release. He also must repay the $1,495,782.62.

Charles Ponzi didn’t invent his eponymous pyramid scheme — but he lent star power to one of the oldest scams in the book. He also believed that his plan could have become a legitimate business.

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