PORTLAND, Ore.—After a six-week trial in Portland, a federal jury found three former executives of Aequitas Management, LLC, and associated companies, guilty today for their roles in a vast fraud conspiracy. Evidence at trial showed the conspirators raised nearly $300 million from defrauded investors.
Robert J. Jesenik, 63, former chief executive officer of Aequitas and resident of Lake Oswego, Oregon; Andrew N. MacRitchie, 59, formerly of Palm Harbor, Florida; and Brian K. Rice, 56, of Portland were found guilty of conspiring with one another to commit mail and wire fraud and 28 individual counts of wire fraud. Jesenik was also convicted of making a false statement on a loan application.
“Today’s guilty verdicts are an important milestone in the yearslong effort to hold Bob Jesenik and other former Aequitas executives accountable for cheating investors and going to extraordinary lengths to conceal the precarious and rapidly-declining financial condition of their company,” said Ethan Knight, Chief of the Economic Crimes Unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Theft is theft, whether it be taking from another’s pocket or taking through a corrupt financial investment scheme. Bob Jesenik and his co-conspirators deliberately deceived investors and the federal government for years and now they will finally face the consequences,” said Kieran L. Ramsey, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Portland Division. “The length of this investigation and this trial demonstrates the full measure to which the FBI, and our law enforcement partners, will go to seek justice. Today’s conviction sends a message that you will be held accountable for corrupt financial practices. We thank IRS-Criminal Investigation, the Employee Benefits Security Administration, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their diligent work on this case.”
“Strictly speaking, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul isn’t illegal. However, lying to Peter for personal financial gain and then not paying Paul is definitively criminal,” said Special Agent in Charge Adam Jobes, IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS:CI), Seattle Field Office. “Corporate executives engaged in fraud tell a multitude of lies, and one of the first is convincing themselves they will get away with it. Today, these individuals are learning the cold, hard truth—they undeniably have not gotten away with it. IRS:CI is committed to bringing conmen and fraudsters to justice.”
“Some of the victims of this shameful scheme were participants of employee pension benefit plans, who worked hard for a secure retirement” said Klaus Placke, Employee Benefits Security Administration’s Regional Director in San Francisco. “We were pleased to partner with federal law enforcement agencies to prosecute these former executives to the full extent of the law.”
According to court documents, Jesenik, MacRitchie, Rice, and others used Aequitas, formerly headquartered in Lake Oswego, to solicit investments in a variety of notes and funds, many of which were purportedly backed by trade receivables in education, health care, transportation, and other consumer credit areas. At its peak, Aequitas employed nearly 200 people.
From June 2014 through February 2016, the former executives solicited investors by misrepresenting Aequitas’ use of investor money, the financial health and strength of the company and its subsidiaries, and the risks associated with its investments and investment strategies. Collectively, the defendants also failed to disclose other critical facts about the company, including its near-constant liquidity and cash-flow crises, the use of investor money to repay other investors and to defray operating expenses, and the lack of collateral to secure funds.
In 2005, Jesenik founded the Aequitas group of companies, and, as chief executive officer, controlled the organization’s structure and had ultimate decision-making authority over company activities. As elicited through trial testimony, Jesenik was a micromanager deeply entrenched in the day-to-day workings of Aequitas. He also served as the company’s principal pitchman, frequently telling others that Aequitas would one day rival leading asset management firms.
MacRitchie was Aequitas’s executive vice president and chief compliance officer responsible for the development and implementation of risk management and compliance processes and procedures. MacRitchie oversaw the company’s accounting, legal, and auditing functions, and participated in fundraising. He also established Aequitas’s New York office and directed the company’s “Lux Fund,” a Luxembourg-based fund used to solicit international investors.
Rice served as Aequitas’s executive vice president and president of wealth management. Among other responsibilities, Rice oversaw the solicitation of investments through registered investment advisors (RIA) and managed Aequitas’s affiliated RIAs.
The company’s largest holdings were from various hospital networks, a consumer debt-consolidator, a motorcycle lender, and Corinthian Colleges, one of the nation’s largest operators of for-profit technical and post-secondary schools. The student loans Aequitas owned from Corinthian Colleges, valued at more than $200 million, were by far the company’s largest single category of receivables.
By early 2014, the U.S. Department of Education began scrutinizing Corinthian’s graduation and job-placement rates and, by June of 2014, announced it would defer the payment of federal-aid funds to the schools. Soon after, Corinthian defaulted on its monthly recourse payment to Aequitas, costing the company more than $4 million per month.
The collapse of Corinthian Colleges set off a series of events that ultimately led to Aequitas’s own demise. Meanwhile, Jesenik, MacRitchie, Rice, and others committed numerous financial crimes in an effort to conceal Aequitas’ bleak financial picture. In June 2014, they prepared a letter to investors claiming that Corinthian’s woes would not impact Aequitas’s ability to recoup its investment from student borrowers. At the same time, they continued soliciting new non-equity investments in the company, falsely claiming Aequitas used new investment funds to purchase receivables when, in reality, they were using the funds to pay the company’s bills and prior investors. By July 2014, Aequitas was effectively insolvent, and, in March 2016, the company collapsed.
On July 13, 2022, a federal grand jury in Portland returned a 31-count superseding indictment charging Jesenik, MacRitchie, and Rice with one count each of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, and 28 counts of wire fraud. Jesenik was also charged with a single count of making a false statement on a loan application.
In 2019, former Aequitas executives and co-conspirators Brian A. Oliver, 58, of Aurora, Oregon, and Olaf Janke, 52, of Portland, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud and money laundering. Oliver and Janke will be sentenced on December 19, 2023, and June 20, 2023, respectively, and, as part of their plea agreements, have agreed to pay restitution in full to their victims as recommended by the government and ordered by the court.
On May 26, 2022, former Aequitas senior executive and chief financial officer Nelson Scott Gillis, 70, of Lake Oswego, pleaded guilty to making a false statement to a bank. He will be sentenced on June 27, 2023, and has also agreed to pay full restitution.
Conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and wire fraud are punishable by up to 20 years in prison, three years’ supervised release, and a minimum $500,000 fine per count of conviction. Making false statements on a loan application is punishable by up to 30 years in prison, three years’ supervised release, and a $1 million fine.
This case was investigated by the FBI, IRS-Criminal Investigation, and U.S. Department of Labor Employee Benefits Security Administration. It was prosecuted by Ryan W. Bounds, Christopher L. Cardani, and Siddharth Dadhich, Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the District of Oregon. Assistant U.S. Attorney Hannah Horsley assisted the trial team.