Two Bellevue residents have been sued by eight people who say they were duped into a vast, highly organized Ponzi scheme based in China to finance expansion of the pair’s Seattle-area commercial real estate empire.
The suit, filed in King County Superior Court, alleges that in classes in dozens of cities across China, Golden Sun Finance Education “brainwashed” would-be investors, many from modest backgrounds, into purchasing property on credit, sinking them deep into debt.
The enterprise’s leaders — Jialin Niu and Troy McBride of Bellevue — promised students they’d be able not only to pay off their loans but amass unheard-of wealth if they borrowed further against their new property to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into real estate investment trusts and companies managed by the group’s founders, according to the plaintiffs.
“In reality, however, there was … only a direct conduit for investors’ money that led straight to Niu’s wallet,” wrote Seattle attorney Angus Ni, of AFN Law, in the complaint, which seeks unspecified damages. The plaintiffs — six Chinese citizens, one Japanese citizen and one U.S. citizen — lost millions as a result of the scheme, they allege.
Since 2012, Niu and McBride have acquired nearly $111 million in Seattle-area property, according to King County property records, including nearly an entire city block in downtown Bellevue that later ended up in the hands of Vulcan’s real estate development arm.
The Puget Sound Business Journal has been tracing Niu and McBride’s property acquisitions since 2013 and last week was the first to report on the lawsuit, which was filed in February.
Niu and McBride could not be reached for comment. Their attorney, Teruyuki Olsen of Bellevue-based Oseran Hahn, declined to speak on the record.
In court filings, Olsen has argued that the case should be dismissed because the alleged fraud occurred entirely in China, so the court here does not have jurisdiction.
The defense also claimed plaintiffs had not ever transferred money to Niu or her companies, supplying the court with sworn affidavits from four companies that the defendants said were controlled by Niu. The affidavits purport to show not only that the defendants had never invested in those companies, but also that Niu had no interest in them.
Those documents were forged, plaintiffs claimed in a June 8 court filing that also says Chinese public records show Niu oversees the companies. Since Niu’s King County property acquisitions were allegedly financed by fraud, the court here has jurisdiction, according to plaintiffs.
The complaint describes Golden Sun luring investors with promises of “outsize, sustained returns.” The dividends were real — but they came from an ever-growing pool of dupes putting their money into the ring, according to the complaint.
With mantras like “All Are Equal Before Wealth,” Golden Sun hawked “knowledge that would allow the hitherto uninitiated to become financial wizards almost overnight.” But Golden Sun actually practiced “financial alchemy,” the complaint alleges, “transmitted through relentless, cultlike classroom brainwashing and peer pressure from other believers.”
In a series of expensive tutorials, the group’s leaders taught students to relentlessly “leverage up” by borrowing money from each other to buy property. Students who followed the group’s teachings quickly became mired in debt and turned to Golden Sun for personal instruction from leader Niu, “which they believed would hand them the key to riches or freedom from their now mountainous debts. Either way, there was no choice but to go,” the complaint alleges.
Plaintiffs describe how the best students were singled out for initiation into an elite investment cadre called the “Billionaire’s Country Club,” where they were asked to invest at least $1 million into companies and investment trusts controlled by Niu. They were told those companies would shortly be taken public in the United States, reaping them fat returns, the suit claims.
Instead, students were paid with later initiates’ fees, according to the complaint. So long as students kept enrolling, the facade of a successful investment was maintained.
In 2015, Golden Sun “ran into cash flow problems,” according to the complaint, and Niu fled to Seattle.
From the U.S., Niu continued to “preach her mantras” in a series of video lectures, advising students to believe “in their dreams of wealth, that any failure to succeed was only a matter of ‘mental obstacles’ that prevented them from believing that they could be rich,” the complaint alleges.
Niu purchased in 2015 a $4.4 million waterfront home in Newport Shores, according to King County property filings. The complaint alleges she continues to live in luxury while her victims “have faced complete financial ruin.”