On December 28, 2021, the CFTC or Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the SEC or Securities and Exchange Commission announced a combined total of 11 counts of fraud against Thomas Plaut and Arthur Dembro.
This is a case involving a phony securities brokerage named WorldWide Markets. Customers could deposit their money, but they could not withdraw their money. Sort of like a financial roach motel.
Both cases were filed in the United States District Court, District of New Jersey.
The charges include the following counts from the CFTC…
- Count 1: Fraudulent Misrepresentation and Misappropriation of Customer Assets
- Count 2: Manipulative or Deceptive Scheme to Defraud
- Count 3: Failure to Register as a Forex Dealer
- Count 4: Failure to Maintain Sufficient Adjusted Net Capital
- Count 5: Failure to Hold Assets in Segregated Accounts
The charges included the following counts for the SEC…
- Count 1: Fraud in the Connection with the Purchase of Securities
- Count 2: Fraud in Connection With the Offer or Sale of Securities
- Count 3: Offer of Unregistered Security-Based Swaps with Non-Eligible Contract Participants
- Count 4: Effecting Transactions in Security-Based Swaps with Non-Eligible Contract Participants
- Count 5: Failure to Register as a Broker
- Count 6: Aiding and Abetting
According to the filed complaints, this fraud involved roughly five thousand retail stock, Forex, and crypto investors. It appears that roughly $5-$7 million dollars have mysteriously disappeared like a fart in the wind.
How did the fraud work?
According to regulators, Thomas Plaut set up a website named WorldWideMarkets.com and leased a white label trading platform from a third party. The website is now down, but the following screenshot was taken by one of the victims and sent to TradingSchools.Org.
What is a “white label” trading platform? At its core, a white label trading platform is nothing more than a trading simulator. Or rather, a video game where players buy and sell securities against the house. In other words, if you are lucky and win a trade, then you must hope that the person that owns the video game will actually pay you the prize.
But here is the problem, Thomas Plaut lied to each and every one of the thousands of participants of his phony little video game. He told these poor folks that each and every trade was routed through the NYSE, NASDAQ, or some other regulated exchange. The following is a screenshot where he clearly states that “All trades are subject to U.S. regulations and are executed with a registered U.S. Broker-Dealer governed by FINRA and the SEC in the United States.”
None of the trades were routed through regulated exchanges. In fact, as the victims deposited their money, it was routed directly to Thomas Plaut’s personal piggy bank, primarily in New Jersey or Florida.
And like all investment scammers that I write about, what is the first thing this douchebag does with investor funds? Of course, unlimited shrimp cocktail. And buy a mansion! The following is Thomas Plaut’s really fancy mansion. Now keep in mind, there is just Thomas and his skanky wife named Elaine. How big of a house would two people really need? You be the judge…
As you can see, this Thomas Plaut character wants everyone to know that he is indeed, very fancy. And very popular! As a matter of fact, on his LinkedIn.com profile page, he loudly proclaims he is the “TOP 1% Viewed. With +18,000 followers.”
When I read this, I just laughed and thought to myself, “wow, the ego on this douchebag is incredible.” He boldly proclaims his popularity like a high school cheerleader recently crowned the queen of the prom.
In addition, he also proclaims a whole host of other unverifiable mumbo-jumbo about his “impeccable reputation” and “entrepreneur of the year” business skills, and some of other BS about being a senior manager at Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Credit Suisse, and Lehman Brothers. Oh yeah, and he holds a degree as a “professional internet marketer.” Whatever that means. LOL.
Introducing Mr. Jelani
Mr. Jelani is from Nigeria. He owns a small shop that sells and fixes tires. It’s not a fancy shop. In fact, in my written interview with Mr. Jelani, he described his shop as “we do everything by hand.”
I don’t know too many tire shops that still do “everything by hand.” But as Mr. Jelani explained, “It’s a great business. Here in Nigeria, many of the roads are dirt, and getting a punctured tire is quite common.” As he explained, “I fix at least a hundred tires each day. Whether it be a car, truck, tractor, bicycle, motor scooter, it doesn’t matter. If you get a flat tire, I can fix it.”
And if Mr. Jelani can’t fix the tire. He will sell you a tire. Most of his tires are shipped in from China and he maintains a small warehouse with hundreds of different sizes.”
Mr. Jelani is a real entrepreneur, in every sense of the word. He started the business with nothing and he now earns enough to support his wife and five kids. They own a modest home that was primarily built by himself and his father.
Mr. Jelani wants to invest his savings
One day, in 2017, an amazing car pulled into his small shop. As Mr. Jelani explained, “This was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was an electric car. It was called a Tesla.”
But this Tesla got a flat tire. So the owner left the car with Mr. Jelani to fix it over a two-hour period. As the Tesla sat in his shop, he lifted the hood and discovered that no engine was visible. There was no gasoline intake, no oil valves, no radiator, it was this truly magical moment for Mr. Jelani. For Mr. Jelani, who lives in a country where gasoline is a serious, and seriously dirty commodity, this car was an incredible revelation. Electricity is cheap and plentiful in Nigeria, he quickly realized that he was looking into the future.
In that moment of marvel, it was as if he was sitting in a rocket ship, marveling at the computer terminal in the front seat. His co-worker ogled and gingerly moved about the car as if it were a sleeping lion. They both looked at each other and just smiled. They turned on the computer screen and quickly found their favorite song, and then proceeded to blare it loudly (hoping the owner of the car was far away). This is the song they played, and as Mr. Jelani explained, “this song fit our mood perfectly.”
Later that night, Mr. Jelani went home and told his wife about the car and his son pulled additional specs of the car on his laptop computer. Apparently, the only place on the continent that sold the car was in South Africa and he knew this must be the first Tesla to ever be in Nigeria.
Mr. Jelani had never invested in stocks before. But he knew with all his heart, he had to buy Tesla stock. And he absolutely knew, without a doubt that by owning Tesla stock, he could not help but get rich.
But how to invest in Tesla stock?
Mr. Jelani looks for a broker
In Nigeria, as Mr. Jelani explained, “It is very easy to get scammed in Nigeria. We have stock brokerages, but there were horror stories of money mysteriously missing, or stolen.” And so, he figured the only way to do this properly was to invest directly with a United States brokerage.
For Nigerians, the United States is considered the holy land for financial markets. They have a long and storied history of investor protections and the “rule of law.”
In addition, he knew that the true heart of American power came NOT from its politicians, but from its “institutions.” And as he explained, the institutions were like nothing else in the world. These institutions were the bedrock from which everything was built.
Everyone wanted American dollars. These dollars were paper, and theoretically, worth nothing more than paper. But for the average Nigerian, the American dollar represented the American stock market, the Federal Reserve, the Supreme Court, the legal system, the education system, the investor protections, the whole capitalistic structure was represented in that green paper. Everyone wanted a piece of that.
And for that, Mr. Jelani wanted to invest directly at the source. He wanted his money in the United States with “all its institutional protections.”
But Mr. Jelani and many other Nigerians were becoming very wary and nervous as the American president had recently called Nigeria “one of those African shit hole countries.” As hurtful, disappointing, and truly shocking as this statement, he still figured it was the safest place to put his investment. And so he decided to push forward and try to invest in Tesla with an American brokerage.
His next step was to go onto Google and search for “United States stock brokerage,” which he did. He was presented with a few options and promptly called a well-known brokerage. The call did not go well. They informed him that they did not accept customers from outside the United States. Next, he called another, and another, and another still.
Finally, a broker called him back and gave him a recommendation. He recommended a company called World Wide Markets and they would accept him. The person he was speaking with was a licensed broker with FINRA and he supposedly knew the guy that owned World Wide Markets (Thomas Plaut), he could be trusted, and that he had a prior registration with FINRA.
Having a registration with FINRA made Mr. Jelani feel very comfortable. As Mr. Jelani understood, “FINRA” was part of the very fabric of American financial markets. It was one of those storied “institutions” whose sole purpose was to protect investors from fraud.
Next, Mr. Jelani called World Wide Markets and they explained they were located in the state of New Jersey and serviced clients around the world, and that they were fully licensed and insured with the FCA or Financial Conduct Authority of the United Kingdom. They also explained that all the company executives were FINRA licensed.
They then explained that his investment would be held in safe, segregated investment accounts and that he would be fully protected with millions of dollars of investor insurance and that the American banker that owned World Wide Markets was an “American Scion” and close personal friends with Donald Trump. At that moment, he started to feel a little less secure about his situation because Donald Trump was no friend to any person of his skin color.
Regardless of the insanity of the political situation currently unfolding in the United States, he still believed in the “institutions” in the United States, and these institutions had weathered the test of time. And so he scraped together his entire life savings….$21,460 and sent it to Mr. Plaut at World Wide Markets.
Mr. Jelani buys Tesla stock
As Mr. Jelani explained, “I had never been so nervous in my entire life.” He had just sent his life savings to a man that claimed to be close personal friends to Donald Trump and he was going to trust this “extremely white guy” to hold his Tesla stock.
Next, Mr. Jelani logged into the stock trading platform and checked the price of Tesla stock. The stock was selling for $52 per share. And so, with all the courage he could possibly muster, he entered an order for 412 shares of Tesla stock. This represented his entire life savings.
As nervous as he was, he was also absolutely convinced that this car company was going to change the world. He knew it. And he knew that Tesla was going to make him one of the richest men in Nigeria. All he had to do was sit back and wait.
And so he pressed the button. He bought Tesla. And immediately afterward, he received confirmation that “your shares were filled on the NASDAQ exchange.”
His first taste of American capitalism. It tasted sweet. He did it. He owned Tesla. He was now part of the “American dream.”
A year quickly passes by. Troubles emerge.
During the next year, Mr. Jelani checked the price of his Tesla stock every single day. And every single day, the stock began to slowly march higher.
He even recommended that his father and mother open an account and buy some shares. Which they did. A modest amount of $2000, or roughly thirty shares of Tesla stock.
At the end of the year, Mr. Jelani’s father suddenly became ill and he needed $1000 for a medical procedure. And so, the father contacted World Wide Markets and sold half his shares.
Next, he requested that his money be sent to his bank in Nigeria. The representative assured him that his money would be arriving in his account within one week.
A week passes by, and no money has arrived. Another week, and still no money. And so Mr. Jelani then gets on the phone and calls World Wide Markets, he frantically asks “where is my father’s money?”
Mr. Jelani is then transferred to a Mr. Liva, who represented himself as the “money manager.”
Mr. Liva then begins to give a series of excuses that simply made no sense. First, he said that they were experiencing “technical difficulties” and then next he said they were experiencing “issues with the World Bank.”
Mr. Jelani then demanded that not only his father’s money be returned, but that he wanted to immediately sell all his Tesla shares and wanted his money sent back to his bank in Nigeria.
Mr. Liva then assured Mr. Jelani that his money would be returned shortly.
Yet another two weeks pass by. Still no money. And now Mr. Jelani is getting very upset. And so, he calls back yet again. But this time, the phone is answered by a different Mr. Liva.
This newest version of Mr. Liva is Mr. Edward Liva and he claimed to be the “Chief Legal Counsel” and a Florida licensed attorney.
As Mr. Jelani then describes, “Mr. Liva was very rude and claimed that he golfs with President Trump and that he better stop calling. And that if he had any problems, he should understand that his family is deeply connected and we won’t be bullied by a person from Africa.”
Mr. Jelani then claims that if he (Mr. Liva) ever hears from him again, he will be sued in Florida for defamation and tortious interference with his business and he will have a judge in Florida put him in Guantanamo Bay.
As you can imagine, Mr. Jelani is absolutely pulling his hair out. He invested his life savings with a supposed respectable American businessman, with supposedly deep contacts in the financial regulatory system, was close personal friends with Donald Trump, and now this company stole his money and was telling him that a judge will put him in Guantanamo Bay.
A deep sadness set in. America was not the place he thought he knew or could trust. The place was now being run by financial fraudsters and racists.
But what can a man from Africa actually do?
For the next two months, Mr. Jelani did nothing. He sent email after email, and none were answered. World Wide Markets simply blew him off. Yet, the website continued to solicit money from new investors, continued to post promotional videos on their YouTube page, continued to host supposed trading educators, and continued to advertise on Google. In other words, continued to operate the scam and continue to rip off consumers throughout the world.
It was just business as usual for World Wide Markets. But Mr. Jelani is a stubborn man. And he was pissed off. He thought to himself, I am just some nobody from Africa dealing with these American scam artists, what can I possibly do about this?
So Mr. Jelani went out onto the internet and started Googling in a mad search to find anyone else that had also been scammed. Sure enough, a few victims popped up on Forex Peace Army, a few more on Futures.io, some more on Elite Trader, a few random folks on MyFxBook, and a few on TradingSchools.Org.
Luckily, someone at Futures.io recommended that he contact the owner of TradingSchools.Org and see if he could help.
Formulating a plan of attack
A short time later, I received an email from a Mr. Jelani from Nigeria.
The first thing I thought? This must be a scam. Normally, I am only contacted by Nigerian Prince’s that want to send me $3 billion dollars. But first I must proffer my credit card. Truthfully, I read the story and thought to myself, “this must be some reverse scam.”
But it wasn’t. Mr. Jelani sent me screenshots, emails, bank confirmations, a list of victims, etc. I thought to myself, well maybe this is actually a Nigerian that got scammed, and wasn’t doing the scamming.
So we started to chat back and forth and eventually did a screen share. His written English was good, but his spoken English was poor. Luckily, his teenage son spoke very good English and helped bridge the communication divide.
Mr. Jelani was very upset. But I told him plainly, “Look, the first thing you must understand is that your money is lost. The chances of recovering anything is near zero.” I explained to him that this scam was designed from day one to avoid the laws within the United States. These thieves calculated they could rape and pillage outside of the purview of the United States financial institutional regulators. These thieves knew full well that Nigeria has no SEC, CFTC, etc and that your complaints to local authorities would fall upon deaf ears.
Mr. Jelani then screamed into the microphone, “But they are doing this scam on United States soil!” I replied, this is correct, but the fraud transpired over the internet, in Nigeria, and you have no legal standing. I explained that you could file a lawsuit in Federal Court, in the United States, but the costs and risks would negate any benefits. You were simply out of luck.
About another week passed by, and I genuinely felt very sorry for Mr. Jelani, but there wasn’t really much I could do about a company operating outside of the United States. And then, Mr. Jelani sent me yet another email and explained how hopeless he felt. So I told Mr. Jelani, “Look, about the only thing we can do is file complaints with the regulators, but I doubt they will do anything.” He quickly replied, “Let’s do it anyway.”
Next, we formulated a plan of attack.
Step 1: The gathering of information.
Regulators are lazy
First things first, in my own experience in dealing with the regulators…they can seem pretty lazy. Maybe they are not. But since they won’t share any information on any ongoing investigation, and investigations can take years, it just feels slow and it’s easy to call them lazy.
So I warned Mr. Jelani that we might just be pouring hundreds of hours into a dark hole with no guarantee that anything pops back out. He said, “Let’s do it anyway.”
Put the kids to work
Mr. Jelani insisted that he have his two teenaged boys help me do the initial hard work of trying to figure out who were the people actually running this scam.
And I must say, these kids were amazing. Over a six week period, they went out onto the internet, and with my instruction, they pulled together hundreds of pages of corporate filings, marriage records, criminal records, business filings, searches through local and federal courthouses, old articles, online reviews, old pictures, awards ceremonies from long ago, pictures from charity events, you get the picture.
Of course, they were fueled by love for their dad, and they really wanted to impress him with their detective work. To say they were motivated would be an understatement. I really appreciated the hard work. I usually do all this stuff by myself.
All in all, we did hit paydirt. So here is what we found…
A family of fraudsters going back many years
So here is the deal with Thomas Plaut…we were not able to verify that he worked for any of the banks he claimed to have worked, including Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch, or Lehman Brothers. We contacted the personnel departments for each institution and they could not confirm.
At one time, Mr. Plaut was a stockbroker and worked at Lightspeed Trading. Though that was many years ago. His FINRA registration expired many years ago.
He claims to be hugely successful and a wealthy man. However, we found that just before he started World Wide Markets, he apparently filed for bankruptcy in Massachusetts. A lot of people got stiffed.
Additionally, there is a multitude of lawsuits in Federal and State courts alleging fraud or fraudulent misrepresentation going back many years.
It appears Thomas Plaut’s connection to New Jersey is only tangential. He is a long-time creature of south Florida. Specifically, the Boca Raton, Palm Beach, and Plantation Florida area. This was confirmed with several different corporate filings in Florida.
Thomas Plaut is married to a woman named Elaine Plaut. Elaine’s maiden name is actually Elaine Liva. She is also a creature of south Florida.
If the name Liva sounds familiar, well, earlier in the article you were introduced to Elaine’s brother and nephew – Edward and Justin Liva. They both gave Mr. Jelani the runaround. Both claim to be friends of Donald Trump. A check of public records revealed consistently large donations to the Trumps.
Additionally, Thomas Plaut and Elaine Plaut are also big supporters. In fact, in the very year that they ripped off Mr. Jelani, they donated roughly $25k. Mr. Jelani was good and pissed off knowing that part of his money went to Donald Trump.
The Liva’s are well-known scam artists in south Florida. In fact, Chris Liva apparently before getting involved in this scam was already under indictment for running a phony surgery office and billing medicare millions of dollars for surgeries that were never performed.
He eventually got over 10 years in federal prison and was ordered to pay restitution of nearly $5 million. Maybe he stopped answering Mr. Jelani’s emails because he is currently in prison?
Ed Liva is also scumbag. He was running a phony medical billing scheme and also scamming the US taxpayer for phony medicare services in Boca Raton. He got two years in federal prison and was ordered to pay a few million in restitution.
And let’s not forget Carolyn Liva, who is the sister of Elaine Plaut and she also got a few years in federal prison for running a phony pharmacy in West Palm Beach. She pissed the federal prosecutors off really good. They went after her two properties in Boca Raton, which she tried to shield under Florida’s homestead act, but was unsuccessful. They also took her fancy watch off her wrist and a 4+ carat diamond ring.
It appears after the big busts in Florida, the whole gypsy clan of scammers slithered up to New Jersey and decided to “start of stock brokerage” and scam people outside the United States.
Contacting the regulators
With this big soup of criminal activity involving the Liva’s, the holes in Thomas Plaut’s resume, the stolen money, the emails and everything else we could find that showed they were a big dirty bunch of criminals — Mr. Jelani filed his complaint with the SEC, NFA, CFTC, FTC, State securities regulators for both Florida and New Jersey, and the Attornies General for both Florida and New Jersey.
Next, we tracked down dozens of other victims located all throughout the world. Many located in Asia and the Middle East. Many needed the help of translators. But their stories were also told to the regulators.
And finally, FOIA’s or Freedom Of Information Act requests were made to the Senate office of Mitch McConnell, House reps that had also received smaller donations, and the Office of the President requesting any and all information and correspondence regarding Thomas Plaut, his wife, and all her scammy family members.
What we really wanted to know with the FOIA’s was whether they were trying to influence any politicos into squashing any investigations with the regulators. Thomas and Elaine Plaut did not donate these huge sums and expect nothing in return. We wanted the politicians to know that we were snooping around and the Plaut money was radioactive.
And course, copies of everything were also sent to the field offices of the FBI in New Jersey and Miami.
To say that we whipped up a firestorm would not be an understatement.
Eventually, the CFTC took the case and we will see how this all plays out. Hopefully, Plaut is finished. It would be even better if the US Attorney indicts him. And he is sent to Federal prison. And who knows, perhaps he can visit his wife’s many family members currently serving time.
Mr. Jelani finally gets his Tesla
Normally these sorts of stories end unhappily. But this story actually has a happy ending.
In 2019, after all of his savings were stolen by Thomas Plaut of World Wide Markets. Mr. Jelani kept a positive attitude and went right back to work. By the winter of 2019, he had saved up an additional $5k and opened up an account with a FINRA registered stock brokerage that accepted international clients.
Of course, Tesla was no longer $50 per share. Instead, it was now $100 per share. Once again, Mr. Jelani steeled his nerves and purchased 50 shares of Tesla at about $100 per share.
By the winter of 2020, Mr. Jelani saved up enough money to buy another 50 shares at a cost of $17k. His total investment for 100 shares was $22,000.
It is now the winter of 2022, and Mr. Jelani’s 100 shares of Tesla are now worth roughly $100,000. Mr. Jelani believes Tesla is going much, much higher. Let’s hope he is right. I certainly want to see his dream of becoming the richest man in Nigeria come true.
Thanks for reading.