Financial regulators say multiple NFL, NBA players ensnared in $18 million investment scheme

Financial regulators overseen by the U.S. government have ordered an investment firm with prominent NFL and NBA clients to halt fundraising after allegedly selling $18 million in fraudulent and unregistered promissory notes.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has accused Success Trade Securities and its owner, Fuad Ahmed, of lying about key facts surrounding investments secured by 58 clients. FINRA did not release the names of the athletes ensnared in the scam, however, an 18-month investigation by Yahoo! Sports determined that a large portion of those involved were players represented by Jade Private Wealth Management.

While Jade’s client list has fluctuated, the investment firm boasted more than 70 NFL players at one point, including among others, Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden, New York Giants wideout Victor Cruz, San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, as well as former stars such as running back Clinton Portis and defensive end Adewale Ogunleye.

FINRA alleges that players were typically introduced to Success Trade by representatives of Jade Management, including prominent Jade adviser Jinesh “Hodge” Brahmbhatt. In turn, Success Trade is alleged to have made at least $1.25 million in payments to Jade Management since March 2009. Brahmbhatt is currently registered in the financial advisors program established by the NFL Player’s Association.

The notes Success Trade was selling promised returns ranging from 12 percent to 26 percent. FINRA accuses the firm of misrepresenting and/or failing to disclose their inability to make interest payments to existing note-holders without raising additional capital from new investors. A hallmark of Ponzi schemes is often recognized by new investor money being used to fund interest payments to earlier investors.

Brahmbhatt spoke to Yahoo! Sports Wednesday night and said he still does not know whether Success Trade was operating a Ponzi scheme with investor money.

“I would argue that, how would we know?” Brahmbhatt said. “We were operating on belief based on what we were told by Fuad (Ahmed). … My take is I wouldn’t know if it was a Ponzi scheme. I mean, if you look at all of the allegations, that’s what it looks like, but we wouldn’t know. We wouldn’t sit there and blatantly put all of our clients in a scheme.”

Among the nearly $800,000 in personal expenditures Ahmed used investor funds for, he paid $1,300 a month to lease a Range Rover, paid $82,000 to his brother through undocumented, interest-free loans, and used the money to pay off his personal credit cards and for clothing.

Brahmbhatt said he was confident of Success Trade’s value due to proprietary trading software that he believed the company owned. He maintained that such perceived value is a part of why Jade Management placed clients into investments with Success Trade.

FINRA is also alleging that Ahmed and Success Trade began taking money from new investors so it could continue to pay the principal owed to previous investors.

Notably, Success Trade funded Jade Management’s business from approximately March 2009 through March 2010. The beginning of that financial relationship coincides with FINRA’s claim that Success Trade had not been generating sufficient revenue to pay its expenses, including principal and interest owed on Success Trade investments. Success Trade has relied primarily on capital raised from the sale of Success Trade investments to keep the company solvent.