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Feds: Raleigh investment adviser tricked clients

Cullen Browder, WRAL anchor/reporterMay 23, 2019

A Raleigh investment adviser went on trial Thursday on charges that he bilked people out of more than $15 million in an elaborate Ponzi scheme.

Federal authorities allege that Stephen Condon Peters, who owns VisionQuest Wealth Management, promised investors returns of 8 to 9 percent a year on low-risk investments. Some turned over their retirement accounts to him, but prosecutors say he diverted $6 million to his own personal use and used other money to pay off earlier investors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Gilmore told jurors in his opening statement that Peters manipulated and tricked clients.

But defense attorney Wes Camden countered by telling jurors that Peters was making monthly payments on the promissory notes purchased by investors until federal authorities seized VisionQuest’s assets in 2017, following an FBI raid on his downtown office and his home.

Peters, 46, was indicted in December 2017 on one count each of investment adviser fraud and fraud in the sale of unregistered securities, nine counts of wire fraud and four counts of engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property. He also was charged with corruptly endeavoring to influence a federal agency.

Last October, he was also indicted on charges of aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to make false statements and documents, making and using false statements and documents and falsifying and concealing documents during a Securities & Exchange Commission examination.

Authorities allege that he “forged, fabricated, and concealed documents and records in an effort to thwart” an SEC review in 2016. Among those items were client balance sheets, wealth management contracts, outside business activity disclosures, internal compliance memoranda and a forged, backdated letter to a former VisionQuest compliance officer purporting to place the burden of disclosing Peters’ conflicts of interest upon the compliance officer.

According to court documents, Peters has admitted to taking between $4.3 million and $4.8 million from VisionQuest so he wouldn’t have to pay taxes on it. Authorities are still tracking what happened to the rest of the money invested with the firm, documents state.

After his initial indictment, federal authorities seized an array of property to help repay victims, including a horse farm near Lake Wheeler, two horses, a cliffside vacation home in Costa Rica known as “The House of the Beloved Princess,” a Cadillac Escalade and cash in several bank accounts.

Prosecution testimony in the case is expected to continue Friday.

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