Crime & Courts

Charlotte man admits to $3 million investment fraud scheme

The co-founder of a Charlotte property investment firm admitted on Wednesday to bilking at least 20 people out of more than $3 million and using some of the money to buy expensive jewelry for himself.

Frank Enrique Lleras, 30, of Charlotte, pleaded guilty in federal court to securities fraud and wire fraud in connection with an investment fraud scheme involving real estate properties.

Lleras was co-founder, executive vice president and chief investment officer of Optimum Property Investments LLC.

According to court records, he induced his victim investors by promoting Optimum as a real estate investment company that made money by purchasing distressed and/or foreclosed real estate in Mecklenburg County and elsewhere, and then reselling and/or leasing the properties.

Lleras traveled frequently to the Dominican Republic, where he induced medical professionals to invest with Optimum, prosecutors said.

He falsely claimed he would use the victims’ money to buy properties in each of their names and then remodel and sell or rent the properties for profit.

To execute the scheme, Lleras established bank accounts in the name of limited liability companies associated with each victim-investor, according to court records. The victims wired their money to the accounts believing Llera would then use the funds to purchase the properties.

Prosecutors said Lleras provided the victims with fake documents to support the purchase of the properties, including fake deeds, fraudulent tax bill receipts and made-up bank account statements.

Lleras admitted in court that he instead used the money to pay other debts of Optimum, to buy property titled to the firm and not the investors, to fund other business ventures and support his lifestyle.

The scheme lasted from December 2012 through 2015, records show.

Lleras was released on bail after his plea hearing. A sentencing date has yet to be scheduled.

The securities fraud charge carries a maximum 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine. The wire fraud charge carries a maximum 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak