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Westwood Resident Among 29 Victims of $1.9 Million Ponzi Scheme

A West Hollywood actor who was the victim of a vicious 2002 beating that sparked debate over hate crimes was the first to alert authorities of the $1.9 million Ponzi scheme.

An actor who was the victim of a vicious 2002 beating in West Hollywood that raised issues regarding hate crimes was the first to alert authorities to a $1.9 million Ponzi scheme that involved 29 victims, including a Marina del Rey resident.

Several sources identified West Hollywood resident Trev Broudy as the first to tell authorities in 2005 of a stock market investment scheme allegedly orchestrated by 40-year-old John Chiyuan Lee. Other victims who have been identified in Los Angeles County and Orange County live in Culver City, Hancock Park, Hollywood, Hollywood Hills, Huntington Beach, Lakewoood, Los Angeles, San Pedro, Shadow Hills, Sherman Oaks, Studio Ctiy, Thousand Oaks, Valley Village, Van Nuys, Ventura, West Los Angeles and Westwood.

Lee fled to Taiwan in November 2006 and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Det. Simeon Plyler spent several years trying to locate him, the sherff's department said in a statement. Plyler eventually tracked Lee to Thailand where U.S. Immigration and Customs Agents enlisted Thailand authorities to arrest him. Lee was arrested Oct. 4 in Pataya, Thailand, and extradited to the United States where he was arrested last Friday upon his arrival at Los Angeles International Airport.

Lee appeared in court Tuesday where his arraignment on 29 counts of grand theft and two counts of California Corporations Code violations was postponed until Nov. 4. He is being held in lieu of $1.8 million bail.

Broudy was attacked in September 2002 on a quiet West Hollywood street after hugging a male friend good-night outside his apartment. He was struck numerous times with a baseball bat in a beating that put him in a coma and led to brain surgery. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office declined to file hate crime charges against his three attackers, citing robbery and not sexual orientation as their motive. The decision sparked protests against Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley.

Broudy did not immediately return a message left Tuesday afternoon with his former agency.

Plyler said that a core group of the Ponzi scheme victims had one thing in common: they all went to the same Culver City gym where Lee was a trainer.

"It's kind of like a crack in the windshield," Plyler said. "It spiders out and that was kind of a starting point."

Court documents say that Broudy in March 2002 invested $15,000 with Lee, who was operating an investment company called Legacy International, Ltd. The investment agreement called for Lee to invest in the stock market on Broudy's behalf and stipulated that Broudy could not withdraw either his principal or interest for the first 12 months, court documents said. After the first 12 months, Broudy could withdraw both principal and interest with 90 days prior written notice. 

Broudy received account summaries from Lee over several months that showed his investment and the amount of interest accumulating and Broudy in January 2003 invested another $35,000 with Lee, according to court documents. After receiving another account summary, Broudy invested another $10,000 in June 2003 with Lee and another $10,000 in August 2003, court documents said. He later invested an additional $10,000 in October 2003 and in January 2005 submitted a written request to withdraw $50,000 from his account, which he expected in April 2005 per the terms of the investment deal, court documents said.

In April 2005, Broudy sent Lee an email saying he wanted to withdraw $80,000 instead of $50,000. Lee later that month told Broudy via email that he was out of the country and the two exchanged email for weeks until Broudy filed a theft report in May 2005 with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department over his dealings with Lee and Legacy International.

By then, authorities allege the Ponzi scheme had encompassed dozens of victims.

"It's a matter of knowing people who have money and they put in a good word for a financial guy," Plyler said. "(Lee) had people who were able to see statements indicating they were making good money."

Plyler said he located 29 victims who had losses ranging from about $3,000 to $420,000.

Sonia Keshishian, a West Hollywood photographer, said she came in toward the tail end of the scheme and lost $7,000.

"It's a terrible thing we all became victims of," Keshishian said. "I didn't invest a lot to feel like I got burned. I blame myself in the sense that investments are a risk and I was ready for that risk."

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