The U.S. owner of an English football club has resigned after U.S. regulators charged him with running a multi-million-dollar fraud scheme.
Florida businessman Thomas Guerriero owns a 49 percent share of Oxford City Football Club, a sixth-tier team in Oxford, U.K. But last week, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused him of tricking U.S. investors into giving him millions for a set of sports and education businesses that either didn’t exist or weren’t turning a profit.
Guerriero stepped down as a director of the team yesterday, citing health reasons. The SEC has asked to freeze Guerriero’s company, abbreviated as OXFC, and it intends to sue him for violating securities laws.
“OXFC has not generated a single dollar in profits since it was created,” the SEC said in its complaint. “The small amount of revenue OXFC generates from its 49 percent ownership of the U.K. football club (from legitimate ticket sales, concessions, facilities rentals, and other activities) is eclipsed by OXFC’s expenses and Guerriero’s compensation.”
Since at least 2013, the SEC claims, Guerriero has run a classic “boiler room” operation staffed with salesmen who targeted vulnerable investors with high-pressure tactics.
The pitch: cheap shares in a small, high-growth company that held sports teams in the U.S. and U.K., a business school, and a radio station. OXFC claimed these businesses would earn $777 million in profit in the next five years and eventually become a major public company.
But these businesses either didn’t exist or were making insignificant revenue. The company was in fact losing millions of dollars a year. Meanwhile, Guerriero’s compensation was $3.7 million in 2014 and $5.1 million in 2015, the SEC said.
The SEC described a 2013 incident in which Guerriero was trying to persuade a 79-year-old widow to invest. He encouraged her to liquidate her retirement fund and buy shares of OXFC with the cash.
When she hesitated, he wrote her an e-mail threatening legal action, the SEC said.
I will be seeking damages in excess of $10 million against you and your trust for the health related issues that I have dealt with due to the stress of dealing directly with you in regards to this matter. You have continually lied, continually misrepresented your intentions, and have purposefully caused me irreparable harm in defaulting on your legal obligations in this transaction.
Five days later, the widow had a heart attack that she attributes to stress. She eventually sold a significant part of her annuity and gave OXFC a quarter-million dollars, the SEC said.
OXFC, in fact, had no legal department to collect these “damages.”
Guerriero and his team also used other tricks, according to regulators. For example, salesmen claimed to record calls with potential investors by pressing a button on their phones to make a sound. The “Verbal Verification System” was used to scare customers into thinking that if they had ever expressed interest in buying the stock, the statement was legally binding.
Methods such as these allowed Guerriero to raise over $6.5 million from some 150 investors, according to the SEC.
Guerriero, 39, has called himself “one of the most influential and powerful entrepreneurs in the world today.” He has called himself a successful Wall Street investor, and he claims to have received education at Harvard University, Boston University, and University of Notre Dame.
There are ample reasons to question these claims. Guerriero has indeed worked as a stockbroker, but according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, he is currently unlicensed. He also had four customer disputes during his brokerage career. A pending case from April 2012 is seeking more than $400,000 in damages for “negligence, unauthorized transactions, misrepresentation and mismanagement.”
In 2014, a southeast Texas newspaper warned residents not to trust the “international financier” attempting to round up funding in Beaumont, TX for an indoor soccer team.
Yet he has fooled some. In February, Guerriero won “Executive of the Year” from an organization called the International Business Awards. It marked one of the rare moments that an independent group of persons affirmed Guerriero’s work.
Oxford City Football Club is a small team based in the same town as Oxford University. As it is a 6th-tier club in the English Football Association, attendance has been an issue even after Guerriero — who claims he’s played professional soccer — joined as director and president in 2013.
At a September game, attendance was a humble 228. As Guerriero told the Oxford Mail, “There are a couple of positions that we’re evaluating and we’re constantly thinking about bringing in new people that’s going to make us stronger and more competitive to potentially do something special.”
“Overall I’m very pleased with the quality and style of play.”
Trading of OXFC shares has been suspended on the penny-stock exchanges where it trades. According to the SEC, OXFC has continued to contact investors as recently as last week. A call to the company’s public phone number was answered Monday by a customer service representative who asked for a name and callback number.
SAQIB RAHIM | @SaqibSansU
Like many fans, Saqib Rahim is the product of his sports traumas. Saqib is a 2015 Dat Winning fellow.