By JEAN ORTIZ - April 23, 2009 -
OMAHA, Neb. - An Omaha man accused of engaging in securities fraud and facing several lawsuits from investors has been indicted on 21 federal charges.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in a news release issued Thursday said 46-year-old Bryan Behrens has been charged with securities fraud, six counts of mail fraud, five counts of wire fraud and nine counts of money laundering.
The indictment is the latest in a string of legal challenges for Behrens, who in January 2008 was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission. He's also been sued by several investors.
Behrens, owner of 21st Century Financial Group, has been accused of collecting $6.5 million from about 20 investors _ many of them elderly.
Investigators say he used some of the money to pay off early investors and spent millions on luxury vehicles and other items.
The phone number for Behrens' company has been disconnected. A message left at an Iowa number for Behrens was not immediately returned, nor was a message left for Omaha attorney Tom Dahlk, who is representing Behrens in several lawsuits.
Prosecutors allege Behrens engaged in securities fraud beginning roughly from 2002 through 2007.
Behrens defrauded investors by soliciting millions under false pretenses, failed to invest those funds as promised and misappropriated and converted investors' funds to his other business entities for his own use without the knowledge or consent of the victim investors, according to the U.S. attorney's release.
He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine, if convicted.
Prosecutors allege he engaged in mail fraud over a two-year period beginning in December 2005. Those charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The wire fraud charges stem from alleged activity occurring from April 2007 to October 2007. If convicted on those charges, Behrens faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Behrens also is accused of money laundering beginning around June 2004 and continuing through August 2007. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if found guilty.
The lawsuit filed in 2008 against Behrens by the SEC alleged he engaged in securities fraud through a company called National Investments Inc., which also was named in the lawsuit.
As part of a settlement in that case, Behrens and National Investments were ordered to reimburse any gains made fraudulently, interest and a civil penalty, according to court documents that didn't specify amounts. They consented to the judgment without admitting or denying the allegations.
An SEC administrative proceeding later barred Behrens from acting as a broker-dealer.
On the Net:
U.S. District Court, Nebraska, http://www.ned.uscourts.gov