Gold dealers charged in $185 million scheme to con the elderly

Metals.com founder Lucas Asher (pictured) is widely known as a rock musician and a verified Instagram influencer. Photo: Lucas Asher’s personal website

Two Los Angeles-based dealers have been charged with swindling senior citizens on precious-metals purchases in the run-up to this year’s record high in gold prices.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission and 30 state regulators charged Metals.com, Barrick Capital Inc. and its principals, Lucas Asher and Simon Batashvili, “with executing an ongoing nationwide fraud that solicited and received more than $185 million in investor funds to purchase fraudulently overpriced gold and silver bullion,” according to a statement Friday.

Metals.com, Barrick Capital Inc. and its principals are charged with “with executing an ongoing nationwide fraud that solicited and received investor funds to purchase fraudulently overpriced gold and silver bullion”

The complaint alleges that since at least Sept. 1, 2017 the defendants fraudulently solicited and received customer funds — including more than $140 million in retirement savings — from at least 1,600 people throughout the U.S. During that span, gold has surged more than 40%, and reached a record high last month as the coronavirus pandemic fueled demand for the metal as a haven asset.

“The defendants targeted a vulnerable population of elderly persons with little experience in precious metals,” according to the statement. “In the end, nearly every customer lost the vast majority of their funds deposited with the defendants.”

With gold futures trading at over $1,800 an ounce, some retail buyers purchase gold coins or jewelry as a way to get access to the store of value. The complaint said overcharges averaged from 100% to more than 300% over the prevailing market price.

The enforcement action is the largest joint filing in CFTC history with state regulators. On Tuesday, the court froze the assets of the defendants and appointed a receiver to take control. Tower Equity LLC is also charged as a relief defendant.

(By Joe Deaux and James Attwood)

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