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UPDATE: SEC alleges $40M Ponzi scheme involving Pleasanton businessman

Kenneth Kenitzer, 66, allegedly worked with accomplice in defrauding as many as 150 investors

A Pleasanton man has been implicated in a $40-million Ponzi scheme by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

In court documents filed Wednesday, the commission alleges that Kenneth Kenitzer, 66, of Pleasanton, worked with Anthony Vassallo, 29, of Folsom, Calif. to orchestrate the fraud. The SEC said in a complaint that the two men, who are president and vice president of Folsom-based Equity Investment Management and Trading, Inc., raised more than $40 million from 150 investors between May 2004 and November 2008.

The commission said Vassallo told investors, many of whom he met through in his religious community, that he had a proprietary computer software program that allowed him to buy and sell stock options and generate returns of 3.5 percent per month with little risk of loss. Kenitzer reportedly posted false trading results on EIMT's website and distributed phony investment reports to investors leading them to believe the company was achieving consistent, positive returns, according to the SEC complaint.

Larry McColm, who said he's known Kenitzer for some time, said he's surprised at the allegations.

"I've known him for 15 years and I never knew him to be a fraud or anything like that," McColm said. "That's really shocking because he's been an upstanding guy for a long time around here."

The SEC said many of the investors in the scheme were members of Vassallo's religious community. Reached Friday, representatives with the SEC said they couldn't comment on the religious affiliation.

Vassallo grew up in Pleasanton, one of five children in his family. He was a star athlete at Foothill High School, where he graduated in 1997, according to school records. ABC 7 News has reported that Vassallo graduated from Brigham Young University. Kenitzer is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Pleasanton, McColm said.

Court documents paint Vassallo as the leader in the scheme and Kenitzer as the one aiding and abetting.

"Over time, Vassallo used different names to describe his investment scheme," court records state.

"Vassallo held himself out to investors as being responsible for EIMT's investment strategies and trading decisions," the complaint goes on to say.

The complaint alleges that the two men went above and beyond to disguise their actions, even when EIMT executives began asking questions.

Kenitzer has lived in Pleasanton for over 30 years and raised six sons with his wife here, McColm said, adding that he wonders if Kenitzer got swindled himself. He said he didn't appear to have any financial troubles.

"I've never known him to be involved in anything shady like that, so that's why I'm wondering if he got snookered by this kid (Vassallo)," he said.

McColm said he's had little contact with Kenitzer since 2004, when Kenitzer left McColm's commercial brokerage company, Sperry Van Ness.

"He's had a good career in the high tech world in Silicon Valley," McColm said, adding that he retired from the industry in 2003.

"He worked with me for two years," he said. "His license was with me, up until 2004. He was approved to the department of real estate. He had no criminal record. It's just out of character."

Tracey Davis, a spokeswoman with the SEC, said she can't comment on exactly when the investigation into the alleged Ponzi scheme began.

"We can't comment on when our investigation began, but what I can say is we did receive information at least by last month, by February," she said. "We did receive a tip."

The SEC has sought relief from the court system, Davis said, including a temporary restraining order against Vassallo, Kenitzer and EIMT as well as a preliminary injunction against Vassallo and Kenitzer. With his consent, Vassallo's assets have been frozen, she added.

So far, the SEC has located one bank account in Redding, Calif., managed by Vassallo, containing $1.2 million, but the commission continues to investigate where the rest of the money is, said Attorney Monique Winkler.

The Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are all working on the case in assistance with the SEC. Representatives with the IRS and the U.S. Attorney's Office said they couldn't comment on the investigation.

A message left at Kenitzer's home was not returned.

To view the SEC complaint, click here

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by ticked big time
a resident of another community
on Mar 12, 2009 at 6:14 pm

We'll see more and more of this misuse of people's money, money that could've been invested in real things. And we wonder why our economy has gone so far south?

Yet, I do feel sorry for his family and what they are and will be going through for quite some time.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by marty
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Read between the lines.You can tell which one got to their lawyer first.
This investing did not start out as a ponsi scheme. Trying to get the best returns for their clients,once behind, tried to take short cuts in investing and failed.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by LDS
a resident of Amador Estates
on Mar 12, 2009 at 7:20 pm

It has been a tought few months for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Pleasanton - murder in Castlewood, successful Prop 8 campaign, and now the Ponzi scheme. These are good people who deserve better.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Kiko
a resident of Val Vista
on Mar 12, 2009 at 11:16 pm

This guy they get, Martha Stewart they get...Bernie Madoff runs wild for years with a $65M Ponzi scheme and nobody even suspects. Time for the SEC to start cleaning house or let the FBI do it for them.

This is why WallStreet won't see 14,000 again. Too many people hurt by investment managers/advisors whose only advice was "stay the course" while 401k money vanished, and too many schemes that were just too good to be true, and they weren't


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ray
a resident of Downtown
on Mar 13, 2009 at 8:42 am

Love his American flag tie in that photo. Typical self-righteous Mormon. Here is another example of good old Mormon "family values":

Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by John Adams
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Mar 13, 2009 at 8:42 am

If I were the Summit Financial Group, I would not be happy to see my ad on this page... It's an unfortunate juxtaposition.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by John Adams
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Mar 13, 2009 at 8:50 am

Come on, Ray. It's not a mug shot, it's a business photo.

The article says "alleged," and "implicated," not "convicted." And if you read further it says many of the VICTIMS were LDS. There are predators in every flock, disguised as sheep.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ashamed
a resident of Downtown
on Mar 13, 2009 at 9:32 am

Looks like Ken Kenitzer donated $2,300 to the Romney for President campaign in 2008- listed from EIMT Investment Firm. Hope this was his money and not the money made on the lies to innocent people!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tyler
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Mar 13, 2009 at 9:37 am

Ray,

Wow that was real big of you to utter such harsh words behind the cover of your computer. That was a cheap shot and you should apologize! To take the alleged and implicated example of one, and call it "a perfect example" of the religion as a whole is downright ignorant. Your comments are completely inappropriate and hurtful to a lot of great people. Yes Latter Day Saints are imperfect as all of us are but this case is anything but "typical". In fact most latter day saints are good people trying to be better. such comments bring shame to your name and diminish all credibility.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ray
a resident of Downtown
on Mar 13, 2009 at 9:54 am

Tyler, I'm very sorry that Mormmons put on a facade of morality and turn out to be hypocrites. Interesting that Utah leads the nation in internet consumption. Mormons are great at projecting an image of "family values", too bad they don't live up to it when nobody is looking.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by AVHS Dad
a resident of Stoneridge Park
on Mar 13, 2009 at 9:56 am

They say you can't cheat an honest man. Most of these schemes are based on greed. There is no legitimate investment that can "generate returns of 3.5 percent per month with little risk of loss." over time, computer program or no computer program. Were these guys generating phony monthly statements? Annual 1099's?

This is no reflection whatsoever on the Mormon/LDS community. By and large they are some of the best neighbors one could hope for.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Kiko
a resident of Val Vista
on Mar 13, 2009 at 11:46 am

A story about a Ponzi leads to a thread about Mormons...its amazing how these threads seem to go awry and lead down strange alleys. Thank god, I'm a Jew...nobody can say anything about us.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by AVHS Dad
a resident of Stoneridge Park
on Mar 13, 2009 at 12:04 pm

@ Kiko: LUCKY!!!

By the way, if you're going to capitalize "Jew" I think you really should capitalize "god" too.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Qwerty
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2009 at 1:33 pm

"Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone"

Ray,

It is extremely ignorant of you to project one person's failings on an entire group of which they happen to be a part. Would you say that all Catholics are bad just because of the actions of one or two pedophile priests? Would you suggest that one Jew who swindles people out of many millions of $$$ is therefore part of a group of which all members are swindlers? Your comments are extremely transparent. Think before you speak (or write).










 +   Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of another community
on Mar 13, 2009 at 8:50 pm

I worked with Ken Kenitzer in the mid 80's at a technology company in San Jose. As VP of operations, Ken did a good job managing our group, and he was always conscientious about doing what was right for the company and those who reported to him. When I heard the news last Wednesday, I was shocked that Ken was allegedly involved in a ponzi scheme - this is totally out of character of the man I knew 20+ years ago. Then again, 20+ years is a long time ago... If Ken is found guilty of this crime, I hope he goes down with the likes of Bernard Madoff. I feel sad for his family, but justice must prevail to help ease the pain of the 150 investors he bilked.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Michael T.
a resident of Downtown
on Mar 14, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Yes, maybe both of these men are guilty, but if you ask me the investors are just as guilty! Shame on them for taking such risks with their money out of sheer greed, thinking they'll get a 40% annual return?! I mean come on, get real. Who earns that kind of return and still sleeps at night? Frankly I think they all deserve to lose their money for being so stupid as to invest in a fly-by-night scam as this so blatantly appears to be. I say give those investors the same punishment as the perpetrators!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Highland Oaks
on Mar 14, 2009 at 5:41 pm

What is it that they say about con artists? Something like, "It's not so much a matter of smart guys stealing money as it is dumb guys giving it to them."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Qwerty
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2009 at 11:25 pm



What I would like to know is how these Ponzi schemes can remain undetected for so long by the SEC. Not to hijack the thread completely, but how come the SEC failed so miserably in the Madoff case?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by PlstnTaxpyr
a resident of Val Vista
on Mar 14, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Probably because the federal government is guilty of running the biggest ponzi scheme in the history of the world called social security. The feds long ago spent all the SSI savings that retirees had paid into the system, so they're paying current recipients from the money paid in by the new working folks. Eventually what happens is that when there are less workers paying into the ponzi than the number doling from it, it blows up like madoff or this one. I don't see much difference.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Lisa
a resident of Downtown
on Mar 15, 2009 at 11:23 am

Religious affiliation and race should not be brought up with accusations and allegations. The charges should be judged on their merit alone. Bigotry of any kind has no place in our judicial system. Stick to the facts and keep your conjecture and innuendo to yourself.
It serves no purpose other than damaging the credibility of whatever you have to say.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2009 at 9:13 am

I also worked with him- he was a snake. He would smile and make nice with people and then talk behind their backs. He also would like to take credit for ideas and innovations when customers were in the building. Not surprised at all. I always knew he would get his, unfortunately innocent people are involved. Pretty low to prey on your
congregation.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by appalled
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Blame it on the federal government, blame it on the sec, blame it on whoever you can think of but the real issue here is someone who is a crook(yes that is the word crook)who has taken advantage of his friends, relatives, church supporters and who knows who the rest of the victim's may be. 40 MILLION Ponce scheme. Lock the door and through away the key. He is an embarrassment to all who know him. I cannot believe that he would do this to his family. Hopefully they did not know what he was doing.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by mom
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Mar 16, 2009 at 10:38 pm

Innocent until proven guilty. Sometimes people are accused because they're in the wrong place at the wrong time, aka "guilt by association." Lawsuits have been filed where they shoot first and ask questions later. I'll reserve my judgement until all the facts are known and he is judged by a jury of his peers. Vasallo has admitted his wrongdoing. Kenitzer may be involved in the accusation only because he is a figurehead in the company. I understand some of his immediate family invested with Vasallo. I cannot imagine Kenitzer swindling his own family, let alone anyone else.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Saul
a resident of Del Prado
on Mar 18, 2009 at 5:06 pm

I knew Vassallo in High School. Awesome athelete, SEEMED like a stand up guy. I couldn't believe it when I heard. If you read the SEC report, this guy tried some shady stuff in Utah and got caught, then he took his show to Folsom. He seems like the progenitor of the scheme, Kennitzer might have just come along for the ride. Either way, both of them are scum and ruined peoples lives.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Just a Mom
a resident of Val Vista
on Mar 19, 2009 at 5:21 pm

I've had to really think about how to word what I was saying and feeling. I know Kenizter on an acquaintance basis only. He and his family are always such a pleasure to be around. They are very warm and giving people. I would like to reserve judgement that he 'knowingly' did something wrong when it could merely be 'guilt by association'. I would like to believe he was swindled as well, because I have a hard time believing he would have his immediate family invest hard earned money in a scheme that would benefit him only. Remember we only know what the complaint says and what the reporters report. We do NOT know the day to day conversations that went on between him and Vassallo. This just could be be guilt by association.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Friend
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Mar 23, 2009 at 6:55 pm

The Kenitzers are an amazing family, some of the best people I know. I have a hard time believing Ken would have knowingly done what it appears he is accused of. I will reserve judgement until the facts are known. I believe he is innocent until proven guilty. My thoughts and prayers are with he and his family.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ponzi victim
a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2009 at 9:38 pm

I'm one of the victims. I don't think I'm a greedy person, and I think if you were to ask any of my friends or family if I'm greedy, they'd confirm what I say. I'm not Mormon. I got into the "terrific investment" based on what I was told by elderly friends. They told me and showed me. I went to a couple of meetings and met Anthony (the crook behind the Ponzi scheme). He seemed so nice and so honest & trustworthy. I met people who were very close friends of my elderly friends, since childhood. I heard stories of first hand experience by some of these people who had complete confidence in Anthony because of their experience of investing with Anthony and receiving their profits when requested over a period of time, then immediately receiving their initial investments paid back in full upon request. Huge investments by my standards! This was their test of Anthony's honesty. This is just part of the story of how he was thought to be such an honest guy. Let's face it, we all know that some people know how to make good profits. We hear the saying that "It takes money to make money". With the charts and graphs that Anthony showed us, along with our knowledge that it's possible to see these profits if you have a good investing system, we were all taken advantage of. I know people who were retired and others nearing retirement, that continued putting more and more money into the EIMT investment because they were receiving their monthly draws on profits as requested, and still seeing their accounts grow. Now one very elderly widow lady is nearly penniless because of this Ponzi scheme along with other diversified investing that is no longer paying anything due to the economic downturn. She gave of what she had to help others, and now about all she has is her social security check. I don't consider myself wealthy at all. I got a very substantial blow as one of the Ponzi scheme victims, so now I'm much worse off and am wrestling with the decisions I must make with finances. I will survive though, as long as this economy allows me to remain employed. I feel sorry for the others who are so much worse off. There's a domino effect that I see as a result of this Ponzi scheme, with the victims now being unable to help others as they have in the past. The victims I know have been unselfish with their money and given freely to others. Call us greedy if you want, but think about it. Who is it who gives to those in need? Oftentimes it's those who are earning good money, by whatever means: their work, their business management, or their investing. In the minds of many people, I suppose greedy people are those people who are better off than the person making the accusation.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Donlon Elementary School
on Jul 27, 2009 at 6:14 am

I have known the Kenitzer family for over 10 years. Look at the facts - Ken's own family lost money in this. There is no way he would have let his children invest in something he knew wasn't any good. At best he wasn't paying close enough attention to what was going on - but there is no way this guy was complicit in the fraud that took place. None. Innocent until proven guilty. By the way, why do you think the SEC isn't charging him criminally?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of another community
on Aug 9, 2009 at 11:32 pm

I used to work for Ken at a company (Comments partially removed by Pleasanton Weekly Online staff as innuendo, hearsay or specific accusatory information unsupported by facts.). I guess he found an easier way to make money.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Gunnittisabax
a resident of Ridgeview Commons
on Aug 25, 2009 at 11:00 pm

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 +   Like this comment
Posted by workmate
a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2009 at 6:16 am

I worked with Ken for many years in the 80's at a high tech co. (Comments partially removed by Pleasanton Weekly Online staff as innuendo, hearsay or specific accusatory information unsupported by facts.)


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MES
a resident of Lydiksen Elementary School
on Nov 27, 2009 at 10:44 am

I've known the Kenitzers for as long as I can remember. This is SHOCKING and I think Ken is innocent until proven guilty. People like Ray (above) are the kind of skum-bags that we hope were affected by this swindling investment fraud. He is also a finger pointer and shouldn't be sharing his ill-mannered feelings on a public website. Grow up! Get some values yourself!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jen Chesnut
a resident of Foothill High School
on Nov 30, 2009 at 11:32 am

I have known Ken Kenitzer and his family for over 15 years and I can attest that if Ken is guilty of anything, it will be guilt by association. I do not think it is fair or right of any of you to judge Ken without all the facts. He is an honest and kind man and he and his family have given so much to so many people. I also do not think it is fair to associate religion with this, you DO NOT have the facts and you are far too quick to judge. Let's not drag an individuals name through the mud before all the facts, not just hearsay & rumors, are heard!!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by annonamouse
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Dec 28, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Guilt by Association? Innocent until proven guilty? Or until he pleads guilty? Check this update.
Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Carl
a resident of Danville
on May 13, 2010 at 10:24 am

Where is Kenitzer now? ... I used to work with him.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Trisha
a resident of Avignon
on Jun 17, 2010 at 3:36 pm

To the person named "annonamouse" above, thank you for the update and Web Link... But please be advised that when a person pleads guilty, that still does not reveal the truth of what happened. Often times an innocent person will declare this to avoid leaving their fate up to a jury who could end up giving a much worse outcome. We still don't know the truth and cannot judge without knowing the FACTS.


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