Ponzi suspect has link to 60th anniversary celebration

10 Dec

A Costa Mesa businessman who’s now accused of taking part in a Ponzi scheme provided entertainment for the city’s 60th anniversary celebration this year, records show.

The city has said it’s investigating allegations of fiscal mismanagement related to the 60th anniversary celebration in June. Two employees were put on leave in August amid that investigation.

But city spokesman Bill Lobdell said there is no known link between the anniversary celebration and the Ponzi allegations against Roland Barrera, owner of the bar Casa.

Barrera’s link to the celebration was reported Sunday on the blog A Bubbling Cauldron.

Barrera runs The Sun Grp LLC, which helped put together entertainment for the city’s birthday bash, according to minutes of a February meeting of the 60th Anniversary Planning Committee.

Sun Grp was paid more than $72,000 between April and August, city records show. Of that, $6,500 was for consulting, while much of the rest was to reimburse the firm for equipment rentals or booking of acts that included Eric Burdon & The Animals.

City officials have refused to release some information and records about the celebration, citing the ongoing investigation. Lobdell said Monday he did not know when that probe will conclude. He said Dan Joyce, a public affairs manager, and Christine Cordon, an assistant recreation supervisor and special events coordinator, are still on paid administrative leave during the investigation.

Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in Texas accusing Barrera and three other people of taking part in a Ponzi scheme.

The SEC says Barrera and a Colorado man helped recruit investors into an investment partnership that advertised returns from oil and gas investments.

But instead, the two who ran the investment, Robert A. Helms and Janniece S. Kaelin of Austin, Texas, spent much of the $17.9 million raised on themselves or other businesses they controlled, the SEC’s lawsuit says.

They also used new investors’ money to pay so-called “partnership income” to previous investors, the lawsuit says. Such payments are the hallmark of a Ponzi scheme, since they lead people to think their investments are paying off.

The SEC asked the court to order all four defendants, including Barrera, to repay money they obtained illegally.

Barrera, who said last week he knew nothing about the lawsuit, didn’t answer his phone Monday. A message said his voicemail was full.



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