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The Villages

Villager invested more than $500,000 after dinner with SEC probe target

A Villager invested more than $500,000 after a dinner seminar with a fellow Villager who is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Villager is among those who invested their money with John Gissas of Retirement Evolution Group LLC of Wildwood, who last week was named as a defendant in an emergency action filed by the SEC.

Villager Rick Woolf is a former U.S. assistant attorney with the Department of Justice who has been following the Gissas case and has been in conversation with the Villager who invested more than $500,000 with Gissas. Woolf said he sees signs of an all-too-familiar pattern.

With the case of the Villager who invested more than $500,000, it started with a seemingly innocent dinner seminar. Woolf warns that many potential investors can fall under the spell of a “charismatic” host.

John Gissas of Retirement Evolution Group LLC organized presentations at VKI Japanese Steakhouse at Lake Sumter Landing.

“You can easily be lulled into a sense of confidence. They can be smooth,” said Woolf of the Village of Osceola Hills at Soaring Eagle. “It’s such a shame.”

Gissas is accused of raising money for Par Funding, whose owners made “opportunistic loans” to small business owners across America – some at interest rates as high as 400 percent, according to the SEC filing. Gissas has raised more than $5.4 million from at least 62 investors for Par Funding through the offer and sale of promissory notes. Gissas, who lives in the Village of Gilchrist, is among numerous defendants named in the SEC filing.

FBI agents recently raided the Philadelphia offices of Par Funding, the firm at the core of an alleged $500 million investment scheme. The raid was the culmination of an undercover operation in which operatives posed as investors.

Gissas found his flock of investors in The Villages by publishing newspaper ads promising lunch and dinner, as well as outlandish investment returns.

Rick Woolf

Woolf advises that not all lunch and dinner seminar are scams, but Villagers should be doing some homework before they RSVP.

“You have to be careful. You have to know who you are dealing with,” he warned.

There are two credible websites that can be used for research.

One is https://brokercheck.finra.org operated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. The other is adviserinfo.SEC.gov offered by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“The sad truth is that most Americans spend more time researching their summer vacation than they do researching an investment adviser,” Woolf said.

Those who don’t do their due diligence can pay a high price, he said.

“It’s not just a financial toll. It can take an emotional toll. Even a physical toll,” Woolf said.

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