Investors who lost more than $6 million in an alleged stock fraud could see a small part of that money returned.
A United States Magistrate in Seattle approved a warrant Friday for the seizure of more than $600,000 from a bank account linked to Keenan Alexander Gracey, the former Newcastle resident accused of an elaborate scam involving phony stocks, rented mansions and the made-up lifestyle of a billionaire British heir.
Gracey, 27, was arrested four days before Christmas on charges that he had bilked dozens of Washington and California residents out of more than $6 million by posing as a professional athlete and wealthy British financier with inside information on hot new company stocks, according to an indictment returned by a federal grand jury Jan. 3.
Federal investigators say that starting in June of 2016, Gracey persuaded dozens of investors to pay large sums for nonexistent shares. According to the indictment, Gracey continued to peddle the phony shares even after federal securities officials issued a cease-and-desist order last spring — and was still trying to defraud investors just weeks before his arrest. He is scheduled to stand trial in Seattle on October 7.
Though Gracey is suspected of spending much of the money to maintain the illusion of a successful businessman by renting mansions and sports cars, investigators say they believe some of the funds–$603,840 — remain unspent and ultimately could be forfeited and returned to Gracey’s several dozen alleged victims.
“The United States Attorney’s Office makes every effort that it can to see that monies are returned to victims who’ve been defrauded,” said Seth Wilkinson, Assistant United States Attorney in Seattle, who is overseeing the case and filed the warrant.
Such seizure warrants aren’t unusual in fraud cases. What is unusual, however, is that the funds being sought by government aren’t in a bank account owned by Gracey himself.
Rather, the money sits in an account held by Beverly Hills resident George Santopietro, who leased a $47 million mansion to Gracey at the rate of $7,500 a night, according to the federal seizure warrant.
Gracey contacted Santopietro in January of 2018 to inquire about renting the 10-bedroom, eight-bath home, which has a pool and a vineyard, federal investigators said. Several celebrity websites indicate that Santopietro, a real-estate developer, built the home located at 75 Beverly Park Lane for his former wife, “Wheel of Fortune” star Vanna White.
According to the seizure warrant, Gracey rented the house from then until he was evicted on Oct. 1, 2018. Funds used to pay rent were transferred to Santopietro’s bank account from accounts controlled by Gracey and into which Gracey’s alleged victims wired their funds, according to the warrant.
According to the seizure warrant, Santopietro continued to rent the property to Gracey even after learning that Gracey was under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
On July 7, Santopietro sent an email to Gracey with the subject line “YOUR SEC ISSUES” which outlined concerns that Gracey’s funds might be the result of fraud, according to the warrant.
Further, Gracey explicitly stated to Santopietro that he needed the house to “raise additional funds from investors,” according to the warrant.
Federal officials declined to comment on whether Santopietro himself would be charged.
Santopietrio could challenge the forfeiture order. Further, even if the forfeiture is upheld in court, there is no certainty as to how the funds might be allocated. A judge could decide to distribute them in proportion to each investor’s claim — but the judge could also rule that, because the funds came in during the final months of Gracey’s alleged scheme, the money should go to investors from those final months.
Wilkinson said federal investigators are still tracking other possible assets that might also be returned to Gracey’s investors.