A self-proclaimed "financial astrologist" and 20 others swindled investors in four companies out of more than $30 million, the Securities and Exchange Commission said in lawsuits filed Thursday.
At the center of the alleged schemes is stock promoter Edward Durante, who used offshore companies he controlled to manipulate penny stocks, the SEC said. In one of four suits the agency filed in New York, Durante is accused of hiring Henry Weingarten, a financial advisor who relies on astrology to manage investments, to tout a stock on his Web site.
"Defendants reaped more than $30 million in illegal profits by secretly controlling the trading in these stocks through a network of promoters, brokers and market makers and then by dumping the stocks at artificially inflated prices to unsuspecting investors," the SEC said in a statement.
Stocks allegedly manipulated were U.N. Dollars Corp. (ticker symbol: UDLL), Wamex Holdings Inc. (WAMX), Ramoil Management Ltd. (RAMO) and AbsoluteFuture.com (AFTI). Former officers of the companies also are accused in the civil suits.
Durante, whom the SEC said also goes by the name Ed Simmons, couldn't be reached for comment.
In the U.N. Dollars case, the SEC said Durante got 10 million shares of stock from company executives after promising to drive the share price to $5. Shares were then at 1 cent. Durante traded shares among offshore accounts he controlled, making it appear as if there was a market in the stock, the SEC said.
Durante allegedly gave Weingarten shares in the company as payment for touting the stock on Astrologers Fund Inc.'s site, the SEC said. Weingarten allegedly used $75,000 of his clients' money to buy U.N. Dollars stock, the SEC said.
Weingarten, managing director of the fund and an astrologer, denied the allegations. The fund claims on its site that it uses astrology as the primary tool to manage investment funds and advise institutional investors and money managers.
"I never do stock touting. That's absurd," Weingarten said.