Peregrine CEO indicted in $200M fraud scheme

PFGBest Chairman and CEO Russ Wasendorf (Credit: Brandon Pollock/Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier) Brandon Pollock/Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

(AP) IOWA CITY, Iowa - The founder of a bankrupt Iowa-based brokerage accused was indicted by a federal grand jury Monday on 31 counts of making false statements to regulators in connection with a $200 million fraud scheme.

Peregrine Financial Group Inc. CEO Russ Wasendorf Sr. could face up to 155 years in prison if convicted on all counts, prosecutors said. His attorney didn't immediately return a phone message Monday, and the date for an arraignment, where Wasendorf will enter a plea, has not been set.

Wasendorf, 64, was arrested last month while hospitalized in Iowa City following a failed suicide attempt outside Peregrine's office in Cedar Falls. Authorities said Wasendorf left a detailed suicide note in which he confessed to a 20-year scheme to commit fraud and embezzle customer funds.

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Regulators said Wasendorf's company cannot account for more than $200 million in customer funds that it was supposed to be holding. Peregrine has filed for bankruptcy and is liquidating its assets, meaning more than 24,000 customers who used the company to invest in commodities ranging from corn to gold don't have access to their funds.

They are waiting to learn how much they'll get back.

The indictment alleges that Wasendorf submitted false financial documents for his company to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission that overstated the value of Peregrine's customer money, which was supposed to be held separate from other funds, by "at least tens of millions of dollars." The 31 counts represent the number of such documents that Peregrine submitted between January 2010 and May 2012.

Wasendorf was charged last month with lying to regulators in a criminal complaint, and he has been jailed in the Linn County Jail in Cedar Rapids. Monday's indictment adds additional charges, but it was expected and provides few new details about the case.

In his suicide note, Wasendorf allegedly said that he started forging bank records to prop up his struggling firm because his "ego was too big to admit failure." He operated Peregrine for years in Chicago before relocating to Cedar Falls in 2009. Wasendorf said he used computer software, scanners and printers to make convincing forgeries of bank statements, according to the FBI.

The case has led to criticism of the industry's regulators, the National Futures Association and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, for failing to catch the fraud and protect customers.

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