AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

High-living Atlanta philanthropists indicted in Iraqi currency scheme

Atlanta-area philanthropists who made more than $180 million by peddling exotic foreign currencies were indicted on charges they schemed to defraud investors, federal prosecutors said Monday.

Sterling Currency Group owners Tyson Rhame of Brookhaven and James Shaw of Atlanta face counts of wire fraud and money laundering for using false claims to dupe investors into buying the Iraqi dinar, prosecutors said in federal court filings. They and Sterling CEO Frank Bell of Decatur secretly paid a man who ran a website about the dinar to claim he had high-level sources who knew of plans to boost the currency’s value. If investors bought the dinar soon enough, their investments could skyrocket, he claimed.

Terrence Keller, of Grayson, Ky., said on his “The GET Team” website and conference calls that he had no ulterior motives, but Sterling paid him more than $160,000 as part of the scheme, prosecutors said. The dinar revaluation never came, but Sterling grossed more than $600 million in revenue between 2010 and 2015. Bell and Keller face charges related to mail and wire fraud.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote about the investigation after federal agents raided locations tied to Sterling last summer. Records showed Rhame and Shaw lived the high life, with mansions in Buckhead and Brookhaven, luxury cars, and property along the Florida panhandle. Prosecutors have seized bank accounts containing tens of millions in dollars and piles of exotic currency and bank notes hailing from as far away as Mozambique and Cambodia, according to court filings.

Rhame, an Air Force Academy graduate, ran a family foundation that got notice for its donations to DeKalb County schools. News accounts said his partners in Sterling, Buckhead’s James and Carol Laurette Shaw, donated 100 acres for Savannah College of Art and Design’s equestrian center.

All the while, they knew they were running a scam, according to emails cited in a complaint filed last year in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.

“We are risking serious jail time as promoters of a Ponzi scheme…” James Shaw wrote Rhame in a 2010 email. In the same email, Shaw said his wife had been “very nervous” and “crying” because “she knows we are running an illegal operation.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation are searching for victims. Impacted members of the public are asked to contact the FBI at https://forms.fbi.gov/iraqi-dinar-investment-investigation.


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