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SEC Charges Man With Ponzi-Like Tech Company Fraud

To match Special Report SEC/INVESTIGATIONSTo match Special Report SEC/INVESTIGATIONS

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused a New Jersey investment adviser on Tuesday of running a Ponzi-like fraud that cheated victims who thought they were investing in up-and-coming technology companies out of millions of dollars.

In a complaint filed in San Francisco federal court, the SEC said John Bivona, 75, of Park Ridge, had raised $53.4 million since October 2013 for his SRA Funds investment vehicle through his firms Saddle River Advisors LLC, which claimed to oversee $139.4 million of assets in March 2015, and SRA Management Associates LLC.

The SEC said Bivona promised to invest in early- to late-stage technology companies, mainly in the San Francisco area, that had yet to conduct initial public offerings, including Box (BOX), Square (SQ), Twitter (TWTR), Bloom Energy, Dropbox (DROPBOX) and Palantir Technologies (PALANTIR).

But the agency said he used investor money as a “personal slush fund,” funneling millions of dollars to fulfill his promises to earlier investors, and diverting $5.7 million to himself and other family members to pay for expenses including taxes, credit card bills, and a mortgage for a Jersey Shore vacation home.

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Bivona, a member of the New York state bar, sent the “lion’s share” of misappropriated funds to his nephew Frank Mazzola, who in March 2014 accepted a fine and industry ban to settle an SEC fraud case involving the now-defunct Felix Investments, which Bivona controlled, the regulator said.

The SEC is seeking to recoup ill-gotten gains, impose civil fines and obtain emergency asset freezes.

Jahan Raissi, a lawyer for Bivona and Saddle River, was not immediately available for comment.

But he said in a court filing there was “no basis” for emergency relief, given that Saddle River was winding down and the SEC had known of its alleged activities for two years.

Mazzola could not immediately be reached for comment. SEC spokesman Ryan White declined to comment.