SEC Charges College Football Hall of Fame Coach in $80m Ponzi Scheme

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The Securities and Exchange Commission has announced fraud charges against a former college football coach who teamed with an Ohio man to conduct an $80m Ponzi scheme that included other college coaches and former players among its victims.

The SEC alleges that Jim Donnan, a College Football Hall of Fame inductee who guided teams at Marshall University and the University of Georgia and later became a television commentator, conducted the fraud with his business partner Gregory Crabtree through a West Virginia-based company called GLC Limited.

Donnan and Crabtree told investors that GLC was in the wholesale liquidation business and earning substantial profits by buying leftover merchandise from major retailers and reselling those discontinued, damaged, or returned products to discount retailers. They promised investors exorbitant rates of return ranging from 50 to 380%. However, only about $12m of the $80m raised from nearly 100 investors was actually used to purchase leftover merchandise, and the remaining funds were used to pay fake returns to earlier investors or stolen for other uses by Donnan and Crabtree.

'Donnan and Crabtree convinced investors to pour millions of dollars into a purportedly unique and profitable business with huge potential and little risk', said William P. Hicks, Associate Director of the SEC’s Atlanta Regional Office. 'But they were merely pulling an old page out of the Ponzi scheme playbook, and the clock eventually ran out'.

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Atlanta, the scheme began in August 2007 and collapsed in October 2010. Donnan recruited the majority of investors by approaching contacts he made as a sports commentator and as a coach. For instance, he capitalized on his influence over one former player by telling him, 'Your Daddy is going to take care of you' … 'if you weren’t my son, I wouldn’t be doing this for you'. The player later invested $800,000.

The SEC’s complaint alleges that Donnan touted GLC’s success and profitability and told investors that the company could enter into even more merchandise deals with more capital. Donnan and Crabtree offered and sold investments that were short-term (2 to 12 months) and purportedly high-yield, with returns paid to investors in monthly or quarterly installments or in a one-time payment. Donnan told investors their money was being used to purchase specific items of merchandise that was often presold, so there was little to no risk to investing in any deal. However, much of the merchandise that GLC actually purchased was merely left unsold and abandoned in warehouses in West Virginia and Ohio.

The SEC alleges that Donnan typically assured investors that he was investing along with them in any merchandise deal that he offered. He touted that he and other prominent college football coaches had successfully and profitably invested in GLC. But by the time the scheme collapsed, Donnan had actually siphoned more than $7m away from GLC, and Crabtree misappropriated approximately $1.08m in investor funds.

The SEC’s complaint charges Donnan, who lives in Athens, Ga., and Crabtree, who resides in Proctorville, Ohio, with violations of the antifraud and registration provisions of the federal securities laws. The complaint also names two of Donnan’s children and his son-in-law as relief defendants for the purpose of recovering illicit funds that Donnan steered to them.

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