SANTA ANA â€“ The FBI arrested a prominent Irvine attorney Tuesday for allegedly bilking about 150 investors out of an estimated $20 million dollars in what authorities say amounted to a Ponzi scheme.
Jeanne Rowzee was arrested at her Irvine home only hours after agreeing in civil court to pay over $60 million dollars in punitive damages to victims that had filed a civil lawsuit against her and her partner, Santa Ana insurance salesman, James Halstead.
Rowzeeâ€™s agreeable acceptance of the huge settlement raised concerns in the minds of the plaintiffs as they, along with their lawyers, immediately expressed to the U.S. Attorneyâ€™s Office that Rowzeeâ€™s behavior pointed to her being a considerable flight risk.
According to William L. Buus, a lawyer representing some of the victims, â€œThere was certainly an increasing concern that this was the end and she was going to flee.â€
Victims of the scheme first sparked an investigation last summer when they alleged that Rowzee was soliciting public investments in private entities (PIPEs) but not investing the money as promised. â€œInstead â€¦ Rowzee would use victimsâ€™ money to make phony investment return payments to other victims, for her own personal use, and for the personal use of others involved in the scheme,â€ wrote FBI Special Agent Brad Howard in an affidavit that was filed with Rowzeeâ€™s arrest warrant.
According to Laura Eimiller of the FBI, Rowzee also claimed that she had never lost money with the type of investment presented, that she had worked for the Securities and Exchange Commission, and that sheâ€™d thoroughly investigated the companies that would supposedly be receiving the loans.
Rowzee was scheduled to appear in court Wednesday and could face up to 20 years in Prison if convicted, according to Eimiller.
Rowzeeâ€™s alleged accomplice, Halstead, has not yet been charged but as contended by the suits, he is believed to have spent lavishly on such things as strip clubs, jewelry, high end sports cars and two homes overlooking Las Vegas.
Halstead wouldnâ€™t comment on Rowzeeâ€™s arrest or whether he too would be charged, saying only, â€œThey are going to do what theyâ€™re going to do.â€