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Local man found guilty in $62M Ponzi scheme

ABC7 Eyewitness News HD covering Los Angeles and Southern California.

January 21, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A Huntington Park man charged with bilking $62 million from Spanish-speaking investors has been found guilty on federal charges.Milton Retana, 46, was convicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury of six counts of mail fraud and one count of making false statements to government agents who investigated the case. The conviction carries a possible penalty of 125 years in federal prison.

Dozens of the more than 2,000 victims were in the courtroom to hear the verdict. Prosecutors say Retana began soliciting investors in 2006 through his company, Best Diamond Funding. Prosecutors say he'd tell investors their money would be used to buy and sell real estate. Retana solicited investors in Spanish-language magazines, on the internet and during weekly investment seminars across Los Angeles.

Retana, a native of San Salvador, often had as many as 300 potential investors and he used religious messages in his seminars. Retana guaranteed returns of as high as 84 percent per year, claiming he would buy the properties in bulk at below-market prices and immediately sell them for profit.

Federal investigators say records show Retana used only a tiny fraction of the money to buy real estate and that his company was losing money.

During the trial, some victims testified they mortgaged their homes and drained their retirement accounts believing Retana's promises that their investments were safe. The investors were mostly working-class families from East Los Angeles and included a pastor from Retana's church.

In October 2008, federal agents executed search warrants at the offices of Best Diamond Funding and his wife's religious bookstore next door. They found $800,000 in cash in Retana's desk, $3.2 million in cash hidden in the bookstore and $8 million in Retana's bank accounts.

Retana will be sentenced on April 26 by United States District Judge R. Gary Klausner.