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Ponzi-scheme investment adviser convicted of fraud, loses homes in Raleigh, Costa Rica

Giving fraud a bad name: The Ponzi scheme

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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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.

Stephen Condon Peters, the Raleigh investment adviser accused of a Ponzi scheme that promised big returns but stole millions in clients’ savings, has been convicted on 20 counts of fraud.

Condon, 45, must surrender assets to repay his victims, including his home at Whispering Hope Farm and his luxury house in Costa Rica, known as Heart of the Beloved Princess, said a press release from U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon Jr. He faces the possibility of decades in prison and up to $1 million in fines at an upcoming sentencing hearing.

“Stephen Peters abused his position and defrauded clients who trusted him with their life savings,” Higdon said in the release. “This is a case about greed and abuse of trust.”

In 2017, federal agents charged the VisionQuest founder with a operating a scheme that took investors for roughly $15 million. At the time, their indictment listed multiple items Peters might have to forfeit, including three horses named Cartagena, Princess and Hugo Boss.

That indictment charged Peters with investment adviser fraud, wire fraud and several other counts. Another indictment in 2018 added aggravated identity theft and concealing documents during a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, among others.

During trial in U.S. District Court in Raleigh, jurors heard evidence that Peters sold VisionQuest Capital promissory notes and promised an 8% or 9% annual return over five years. He presented the deal as a low-risk investment in revenue-generating businesses.

Instead, Higdon’s release said, Peters stole much of the money as part of a Ponzi scheme, forging documents to throw off investigators with the SEC. He fabricated client balance sheets, wealth management contracts, business activity disclosures and internal compliance memoranda.

“When people put their trust in a financial adviser, they expect honesty and professionalism,” Higdon said in the release. “Instead, Mr. Peters violated that trust and breached his fiduciary duties for his own personal gain. This simply will not be tolerated.”

Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.
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