San Francisco resident Min Jin Zhao, 60, has been sentenced to five years in federal prison and directed to pay almost $2 million in restitution to the investors he scammed, including one he convinced he was a movie producer, according to a statement released on Friday by the Northern District of California’s U.S. Attorney's Office.
Zhao pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud involving two separate investment schemes that started in 2017 and 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
According to the statement, the first investment scheme took place from 2017 to 2021. It apparently involved a “dear friend” giving the entirety of her retirement savings — over $2 million — to Zhao under the premise that he would invest it through a company he called "Big Block Consulting, Inc." (BBC). Despite promising her a 10% monthly return on her money, he reportedly never invested any of it, and she had no savings left over for everyday expenses. As KPIX reported, Zhao admitted in his plea agreement that he had instead used the funds to buy a condo in Indian Wells, California, just outside of Palm Springs.
In the second one, the U.S. Attorney's Office said, which Zhao carried on from 2018 to 2021, he claimed to be a film executive at Sony. Zhao was apparently able to convince a man to invest $500,000 in the fake company, BBC, to be an executive producer on movie projects. The victim signed a written contract and handed over $300,000, which he had borrowed from a family member, based on Zhao's fraudulent claim. In the plea, Zhao admitted he was never associated with Sony, nor was he ever a film executive.
The case was ultimately investigated by the FBI, leading to Zhao’s prosecution. In addition to the 5-year prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, who presided over the case, ordered Zhao $1,883,503.93 in restitution and to forfeit the Indian Wells property.
Image via Tony Webster, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons.