ATLANTA (CN) A 69-year-old man who "claims to be an ordained minister" used his religiously themed companies to defraud investors of millions of dollars in "fictitious securities" he calls "administrative remedies," the SEC claims in court.
The SEC sued Thomas J. Lawler and his company Freedom Foundation USA dba Freedom Club USA, on July 30.
It also sued Divine Spirit, a Georgia LLC Lawler formed to pay the bills of Freedom Foundation;
Order Processing, a Missouri LLC Lawler created to receive money for purchases of his fictitious securities;
Prosperity Solutions, which processes payroll for Freedom Foundation; and
Violet Blessings, an LLC owned and controlled by Lawler's wife, Diane Lawler.
"Thomas J. Lawler, age 69, claims to be an ordained minister and refers to himself as Reverend Tom," the SEC says in the lawsuit. "He is the founder and manager of Freedom Foundation. He claims that a severe illness that struck one of his sons cost him his career and drove him into debt, at which point he began investigating the banking system and supposedly made the discoveries that underpin the story that he tells to prospective purchasers of the securities at issue in this matter."
Since 2004, the SEC says, Lawler and his Freedom Foundation have been peddling "fictitious securities."
"Specifically, defendants offer investors the opportunity to eliminate their debts and collect lucrative profits through the purchase of so called 'administrative remedies' (ARs)."
Lawler sells his creation in $1,000-increments, from $1,000 to $10,000.
"In addition to canceling the investor's debt, a $1,000 administrative remedy will supposedly return $325,000 and a $10,000 investment purportedly entitles the investor to receive $1 million when the AR is funded," the SEC says in the complaint.
Lawler has sold about 2,000 of his ARs in the past 10 years, and continues to sell them. "Not one investor in this scheme has received any of the promised returns. But defendants continue to tell investors that funding of the ARs is 'imminent,'" the SEC says.
Here's how Lawler plays the game, according to the lawsuit: "To attract investors, defendants represent that an account is established for each person at their birth in their name. This account is sufficient to fund all future borrowing by that individual. Where, by whom, and in what amount the supposed account is established are details that defendants do not disclose.
"According to defendants, when people later borrow from a bank, they are not borrowing the bank's money nor its depositor's money, but rather that person's own money that resides in their own account. In an act of rank injustice, says Lawler, banks charge people interest on the use of their own money.
"Freedom Foundation and Lawler offer people a way to correct this injustice, eliminate the supposed indebtedness they have incurred to creditors, and secure the promised payouts."
Lawler claims his ARs are a "unique" and "proprietary process" that, through the Uniform Commercial Code and international maritime law, cancel his clients' debts.
Everyone who holds one of his ARs, the SEC says, now "await a series of unspecified international events - including a papal decree - which will trigger a massive payment from the U.S. Treasury to Freedom Foundation for at least the amount of all ARs."
And so on.
The SEC seeks disgorgement, an accounting, freezing of accounts, and penalties.