Assets Frozen, Restraining Orders Issued, Employees Leave Hurriedly
By Terry Miller
In what can only be described as a surreal event, scores of employees of USFIA were sacked Tuesday after a federal raid. The employees had to abruptly leave the building in which they worked, many holding personal belongings spilling out of boxes and bags as they tried to avoid the news cameras there to cover what has become a major embarrassment for Arcadia Councilman John Wuo.
As more and more media arrived after getting tips ( a special thanks to our friend John Crawford at Sierra Madre Tattler for the heads up on this) on the developing story, federal agents could be seen through the windows going through boxes of paperwork.
SEC (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) officials Tuesday afternoon seized the assets of USFIA-GemCoin, a company that has been under scrutiny for allegedly defrauding Chinese-American investors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As this story was unfolding at about 5:45 p.m., a helicopter hovered over the site briefly. It bore an Immigration and Customs Enforcement logo. We couldn’t independently confirm the connection with the case but the timing was curious.
Arcadia Police assisted U.S. Marshals Service and a court-appointed receiver in serving a temporary restraining order against US Fine Investment Arts, Inc. and its CEO Steven Chen at his Live Oak offices on Tuesday.
The filing states Chen and his companies violated federal securities laws.
Attorney Long Z. Liu was present when the SEC agents entered the building in at 135 East Live Oak in Arcadia.
“I feel this is long overdue,” he said. “They had a search warrant and many agents entered the building to seize property and documents.”
USFIA is connected to Arcadia Councilman John Wuo, whose home was also allegedly visited by federal officials on Tuesday afternoon but could not be confirmed. Lt. Mike Castro of Arcadia PD said the department did not visit John Wuo’s home Tuesday.
Wuo has been under intense scrutiny and considerable fire in recent months for his involvement in GemCoin as a sitting former mayor; critics say he may have abused his power to get investors to trust USFIA.
Wuo unswervingly denies any involvement with GemCoin or USFIA. In fact, he said he didn’t even know what GemCoin was, on numerous occasions. This, despite the literally hundreds of internet images of John Wuo with Steve Chen, the president of GemCoin.
Calls for Wuo’s resignation have been more vocal in recent weeks as the alleged Ponzi scheme has been uncovered.
The restraining order, filed with the United States District Court, named Chen and USFIA, and lists dozens of other companies Chen either owns or has a financial interest in.
The court granted the SEC’s request to “freeze assets, appoint a temporary receiver, prohibit the destruction of documents, grant expedited discovery and require accountings.”
Councilman John Wuo was not named in the court order.
The asset freeze affects more than 30 different bank accounts, including five accounts with various banks in Chen’s name, according to the court document.
The Live Oak location was seized and is currently being held by the Thomas Seaman Company, which is the temporary receiver.
Further information will be made available at the following website later in the week: http://www.usfiareceiver.com/.