Investors who “thought they were getting in on the ground floor of a legitimate business venture” were instead funding the lavish lifestyle of a River Vale man who used their money on steak dinners, limo service, $8,800 worth of visits to a strip club and other personal expenses, authorities charged.
Eric J. Bruno and his company, Mirakill Brands, “misled at least eight investors – including at least seven from New Jersey – into buying unregistered securities in the form of membership interests and warrants to buy membership interests in Mirakill,” state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said.
As a result, the New Jersey Bureau of Securities on Wednesday ordered Bruno and Mirakill to pay a $100,000 civil penalty.
Investors were told that Mirakill – formed in Nevada, with offices in Old Tappan -- was a start-up that was “developing an antimicrobial agent for industrial use,” Grewal said.
From at least July 2013 to June 2014, he said, Bruno and Mirakill “fraudulently raised approximately $137,000 from investors by falsely claiming that the money they invested would be used to bankroll the Mirakill venture, including securing office space, paying salaries and professional fees, funding research and development and [buying] production materials and packaging.”
As president of Mirakill, Bruno countersigned investors’ purchase agreements, met with certain investors, received and deposited investment checks and received wire transfers into the company’s accounts, which he controlled, the attorney general said.
Using at least $82,000 of the investments, he rang up $20,000 in debit card charges at grocery stores, liquor stores, restaurants $8,800 at a New York strip club and $2,300 for limousine services, Grewal said.
Bruno also withdrew $46,000 in cash from the funds through ATMs and banks, he said.
“Bruno was living high on the hog at the expense of the investors he fleeced,” said Christopher W. Gerold, chief of the New Jersey Bureau of Securities.
“Investors received documents that lent a patina of legitimacy to Bruno’s scam and helped convince them that he and the investment were on the up and up,” said Kevin Jespersen, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “In reality, Bruno was not registered with the Bureau as an agent of Mirakill, and the Mirakill Securities were not registered to be offered for sale in this state, as required.”
“This case is a prime example of why the Bureau of Securities strongly recommends that investors verify and review the registration records of anyone claiming to be an investment professional or a seller of securities before handing over any money,” Jespersen emphasized.
Handling the investigation were Bureau of Securities Deputy Chief Amy Kopleton and Chief of Investigations Rudolph Bassman.
Deputy Attorney General and Section Chief Victoria Manning and Deputy Attorney General Benjamin Zakarin of the Securities Fraud Prosecution Section in the Division of Law represented the state in court.
The Bureau is charged with protecting investors from investment fraud and regulating the securities industry in New Jersey. It is critical that investors “Check Before You Invest.”
Investors can obtain information, including the registration status and disciplinary history, of any financial professional doing business to or from New Jersey, by contracting the Bureau toll-free within New Jersey at 1-866-I-INVEST (1-866-446-8378) or from outside New Jersey at (973) 504-3600, or by visiting the Bureau’s website at www.njsecurities.gov.
Investors can also contact the Bureau for assistance or to raise issues or complaints about New Jersey-based financial professionals or investments.
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