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Utah man accused of bilking elderly Californians

Published September 14, 2012 10:30 pm

Charges • Brian Smart was also found to have run Ponzi scheme in Utah.
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A Utah County man already found to have committed widespread fraud has been arrested on a warrant from California, where he is charged with stealing more than $1 million from elderly clients.

Brian Jared Smart, 36, Lehi, owner of Smart Assets LLC, faces 14 felony charges in Orange County for allegedly convincing five elderly people to trust him with their savings or money from sales of their homes, then stealing the funds.

Marc Labreche, senior deputy Orange County district attorney, said if convicted Smart faces 25 years and 4 months in prison. Barring unusual circumstances, a prison sentence is mandatory because of the number of charges.

"He's alleged to have bilked multiple victims out of their money by converting their annuities or what they thought were their annuities into his own personal bank account," Labreche said.

Smart was arrested just after midnight on Wednesday and was being held in the Utah County Jail.

D. Ramey Logan of Newport Beach, Calif., alleged Thursday that his mother, Katherine Brown, was Smart's first elderly victim. In a bankruptcy court document, Brown said she turned over $100,000 in savings to Smart after her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and the couple became worried about their financial future.

After her husband died, Brown said she gave Smart another $145,000 for what was supposed to be a safe investment. She received some payments, but Logan said he discovered that Smart had forged his mother's signature and that her funds had gone into his accounts, according to the court document.

"It's about time," Logan said Thursday of Smart's arrest. "Justice was served. Mr. Smart's victims were elderly and have no way to recover from this."

In 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued Smart and his company, alleging he told numerous lies to investors, including some who were elderly.

Smart promised annual returns of up to 18 percent but instead of conservative investments, Smart used funds from new investors to make payments to earlier ones in what's known as a Ponzi scheme, the SEC charged. He also invested in risky real estate deals and used investor funds to purchase a house for himself and pay personal expenses, the SEC alleged.

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball found that Smart and his company took in more than $2 million from investors through a "systematic program of deception and fraud" and ordered him to repay that amount, imposed a fine of more than $2 million and added on interest.

Smart also has financial ties to Wendell and Allen Jacobson, the father-son owners of Management Solutions Inc. of Fountain Green. The SEC sued the Jacobsons in December alleging they operated their real estate investment company as a Ponzi scheme and lied to investors about how their money would be used.

Smart and the Jacobsons were partners in a Hawaiian real estate venture that is the subject of a lawsuit by some of the same victims named in the California criminal complaint, according to court documents.

tharvey@sltrib.com

Twitter: @TomHarveySltrib