Robert Wall had the misfortune to put his trust in Trent Wall, the son of a lifetime friend and first cousin. During a ten year period, Trent Wall used his connections to defraud victims out of $5 million with elaborate schemes involving heavy equipment sales that spanned the globe. He agreed to surrender to authorities when he was finally caught, but then fled the country.
Nevertheless, Special Agent Rex Ashdown with my office did not give up. Ashdown coordinated a sting and Trent Wall was arrested in Africa. Assistant Attorney General Rich Hamp then prosecuted him and his partner-in-crime Kenneth Grasso. Both men are now serving lengthy sentences at the Utah State Prison.
"I am very pleased and most appreciative that the Utah Attorney General's Office recruited and supported competent individuals such as Investigator Mr. Rex Ashdown and Assistant Attorney General Rich Hamp, because it is very important to stop criminals from preying on unsuspected honest people who are working hard around the world,' wrote Robert Wall. "Without [their] efforts, I believe Trent Wall, an alleged clever and very devious criminal, would likely have completely escaped justice."
The victim recounted how other investigators and prosecutors did not want to take on the case because it was so complicated and not a "Joe six-pack type of case" that jurors would easily understand. He also said many friends told him this fraudster would never go to prison because of all his political contacts. "I offered to bet them that they were wrong on all these issues," added Robert Wall. "And history proves they were indeed wrong."
I am incredibly proud of our investigators and prosecutors who go after white-collar criminals with tiger-like tenacity. However, this case is a good reminder and a warning that anyone can be at risk of affinity fraud. Instead of using the tools of a burglar, Trent Wall used friendship, family connections and church affiliations to allay doubts and falsely build trust.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has offered some good tips on how you can protect yourself against affinity fraud:
- Check out everything - no matter how trustworthy the person seems who brings the investment opportunity to your attention.
- Do not fall for investments that promise spectacular profits or "guaranteed" returns. If an investment seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
- Be skeptical of any investment opportunity that is not in writing. You should also be suspicious if you are told to keep the investment opportunity confidential.
- Don't be pressured or rushed into buying an investment before you have a chance to think about - or investigate - the "opportunity." Be especially skeptical of investments that are pitched as "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunities.
Before investing with anyone - even family, friends, neighbors or fellow parishioners - check with the Utah Division of Securities at www.securities.utah.gov, my office, or other agencies that might be involved in that particular type of business, i.e. the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, Utah Division of Real Estate or Utah Department of Financial Institutions.
The Utah Attorney General's Office is uniquely prepared and experienced to investigate and prosecute affinity fraud, but many times the victim's money has already been spent and the damage is irrevocably done. The best way to stop crime is to prevent it from happening in the first place. If a rocket scientist can be fooled then so can you. Be on guard and do everything you can to protect your money and your family.
Mark L. Shurtleff was elected in 2000 and is the first three-term attorney general in Utah history.