U.S. charges Harvard grad over alleged Ponzi-like currency scam

NEW YORK A Harvard University graduate has been criminally charged with fraudulently causing almost $20 million of losses for clients after falsely touting her currency trading prowess and using new money to make Ponzi-like payments to earlier investors.

The U.S. Department of Justice charged Haena Park, a founder of Phaetra Capital GP and its predecessor Argenta Capital, with wire fraud and commodities fraud, according to a complaint filed on Thursday with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Park, 40, of Manhattan, was also civilly charged by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, court papers show.

It is unclear whether Park has a lawyer for her defense. Phaetra did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Prosecutors said Park solicited more than $23 million from investors between 2010 and 2016 by touting herself as an “accomplished” trader who had generated high double-digit or even triple-digit annual returns.

In fact, prosecutors said Park was a “consistently unsuccessful” trader who lost $19.5 million of the $20 million she invested in currencies and highly leveraged futures, returned another $3 million to earlier investors in a “Ponzi-like” fashion, and hid her losses by giving bogus account statements to her investors.

Authorities also said Park lied to National Futures Association examiners in an April 4 interview by representing that she traded only her own money, and that Phaetra had not been soliciting business.

According to the SEC, Park’s victims included friends, family and former Harvard classmates.

The defendant graduated from Harvard in 1998 with a degree in psychology, school records show.

The cases in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, are U.S. v. Park, No. 16-mag-03503; SEC v Park, No. 16-04103; and CFTC v. Park, No. 16-04120.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Anthony Lin and Nate Raymond; Editing by Bill Rigby)

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