A Special Report: The Harrowing Impunity of White-Collar Crime – Part I
Marc Lubaszka, the ultimate white-collar conman on the run: From a Hollywood Hills mansion to Venezuela’s illegal gold mines and back
Disabled veteran Steve Gern: “It’s been nearly ten years of desperation”
Around 2012, tens of investors across the country experienced nearly $2 million in combined losses with unregistered gold broker Marc Lubaszka. The SEC, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies never filed charges against him. And despite the entrepreneur’s convoluted history of suspended companies, he’s recently re-launched his gold coins business operations and tried to secure $35 million in investments for his latest venture – a private jet company named Fly Private X –, while offering investment opportunities in Venezuela’s illegal gold mines by using his real name – at times – and pseudonyms – at others. But in recent months, Lubaszka has also sent out a shady settlement offer to his ‘crimeless’ victims that may offer renewed hope for them to pursue legal claims against the gold dealer and finally compel government agencies to file charges against him.
Los Angeles (CA) – Nearly a decade has gone by since Marc Gregory Lubaszka’s Aurum Advisors precious metals brokerage (and its sister company Gold Coins Gain) went out of business in Los Angeles. His now defunct firm, which was located on the 25th floor of a fancy business tower in Century City, left more than 50 gold coins and IRA investors across the country to fend for themselves. Their losses amounted to nearly $2 million. Some lost their hard-earned life savings, others their retirement or children’s college funds, but none ever saw the broker who lived off their backs be brought to justice. Despite tens of complaints, the FBI, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) never filed criminal or civil charges against him. And Lubaszka just got away with it – all.
But today, a group of Aurum Advisors victims is still actively searching for the FINRA-unregistered broker in every corner of the globe. Among them is 75-year-old disabled veteran Steve Gern, who has dedicated the past years of his life to the pursuit of justice and to uncovering the whereabouts of the elusive entrepreneur, who fled to South America when his gold and silver company went under back in 2012.
Overnight, Lubaszka had left behind a lavish lifestyle, one that his many victims could only dream of: Glamorous parties with models, high-end suits, a luxurious Bentley and a historic Hollywood Hills mansion with stunning sunrise and sunset views of Los Angeles, an outdoor swimming pool overlooking the city, a tennis court as well as its own on-site observatory – a luxurious complex built in the 1920s once inhabited by deceased actor Chester Conklin, one of the most iconic silent movie comedians of all times who starred alongside Charlie Chaplin. But as Lubaszka’s Hollywood golden years came to an abrupt end, his victims came together in a long-term chase that only now may offer a new glimpse of hope for them.
“It has been nearly ten years of desperation for me,” says Gern in a phone interview from his house in Oregon, where he lives with his wife and four dogs: Teawee, Desiree, Sonodor and Marcus. “I lost about $48,000 of my IRA account. The problem is that Marc is a smart guy, and the FBI probably didn’t do anything because he’s a small fish in the pond. If he was Madoff, he’d be in jail,” he regrets.
As Lubaszka’s gold coins empire was crumbling down towards the end of 2011, he put out a press release acknowledging that his company was experiencing problems that forced him to let go some of his highest-salaried staff and turn to new less experienced recruits to fill in the shoes of upper management. By then, it was already too late for the broker: Feeling duped, customers had been submitting public complaints – some dating back to 2009 – on online boards as their multiple attempts to contact the company went unanswered. Many neither received the coins nor a refund. Some saw the value of their investment drastically cut in half without explanation. And no one ever knew whether the company was even planning to file for bankruptcy.
“The first time I bought coins from Marc, I didn’t have any problems. I sent a wire transfer for approximately $15,000 and received the coins,” says on a video-call David Coonrod, a 78-year-old retired architect living in Texas. “But my second experience was entirely different. They cashed my check for approximately $17,000, and I never received the coins. They took the money and then took off.”
Two invoices sent from Aurum Advisors to Coonrod at the time of each purchase prove that both payments went through. However, the architect’s continued efforts to demand a refund for the second batch of undelivered coins went nowhere, according to documents and emails obtained exclusively by this outlet.
Shortly after Aurum Advisors (and its sister company Gold Coins Gain) abruptly shut down their business operations around June 2012 without informing their clients, Coonrod flew to California to spend time with his daughter and decided to pay Lubaszka a visit. “The furniture was still in the office, but I was told that no one was working there anymore and that they’d been receiving many complaints from many customers,” he explains. During his trip, Coonrod learned that Lubaszka’s girlfriend – who went by the stage name of Kris Martin – also worked for the company and had written a long press release for Aurum Advisors in February 2011 detailing the broker’s numerous complaints against “unethical” and “chronic” customers who can never be satisfied and air their grievances online to receive compensation from companies like his. While in Los Angeles, Coonrod also found out the name of Aurum Advisors CFO: Bethany Cabe – one of Marvel’s fictional characters and, as time would later show, one of Marc’s signature practices: To create fake personas to advance his business and personal interests and keep unhappy clients and partners at bay.
Armed with this information, Coonrod and other victims quickly mobilized, created a victims group online and filed complaints with the FBI, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, the SEC, the FTC and the BBB. “It didn’t get anywhere,” Coonrod regrets. “I was told that these businesses pop up like Starbucks in Los Angeles.”
In the past years, there have been countless email exchanges among Lubaszka’s victims, some showing hope, some filled with anguish and despair, whereas others marked the agonizing end of the years-long uphill battle for most of them. Their correspondence provides a rare window into their plight, endless struggles and dead-end efforts to track down Lubaszka. Perhaps one of the hardest pills to swallow for them was seeing the authorities bring fraud and theft charges against gold coin dealer Goldline International, Inc. while, inexplicably to them, letting Lubaszka get away with his actions. Year after year, the victims have made it to the finish line empty-handed.
“I know I’ll never see my money again,” says in a phone interview Jeroldine Clark, who lost $160,000 with Lubaszka, the second highest amount of losses among all Aurum Advisors victims. “Marc is a smooth-talking salesman over the phone. He misrepresented the value of my investment when I bought the coins, and I lost it all,” she recalls.
For Leslie Lawson, who experienced the highest amount of losses, the financial damage caused by the gold broker will never be undone. “I happened to be swindled out of more than $215,000 dollars out of my IRA that I will never recover; a travesty for many of us,” she regrets.
Lubaszka’s criminal history, substance abuse and widespread fraud accusations against him
But behind his alluring facade, elegant suits, arrogance and playboy moves, Lubaszka’s glamorous Hollywood lifestyle came with a more predictable yet darker side: A history of arrests dating back to at least 2005 involving alcohol abuse and drug use. His driver’s license was suspended by a Santa Barbara County court in October 2006. At 28, he was arrested in a Santa Monica hotel bar, booked for intoxication and for challenging employees to a fight. Court records also show that, over the course of the years, he was arrested in the Los Angeles and San Diego counties for criminal threats, public intoxication and several DUIs. Multiple times he was ordered into alcohol treatment programs and placed on probation. Furthermore, he was convicted on drug charges, ordered into a rehab program and later expelled.
“I think Marc was a legitimate and successful gold broker at some point, but alcohol and drugs turned him into a crook,” says Gern.
As Lubaszka struggled with substance abuse and to stay afloat, several victims – Leslie Lawson, James Re, Andreas Mirza, Murat Kanbay, Faras Rabadi, and John Dimaggio – filed legal cases against him and his gold companies, including World Gold Group. While some obtained default judgments against the broker for failure to appear in court, others were unable to prevail in the legal system, proving that victims face insurmountable challenges in their fight for justice and closure.
In the midst of his Aurum Advisors demise, Lubaszka was also arrested for domestic violence against his girlfriend. The surety company involved in this case confirmed that a $50,000 bail was posted for Lubaszka’s release and that he later skipped his court hearings.
Overwhelmed by his many legal, professional and personal troubles around late 2011, Lubaszka resorted to one last card up his sleeve: He packed his bags, kissed his Hollywood Hills mansion goodbye and fled to South America.
Following Lubaszka’s elusive trail in South America
In an email to other victims, Jeroldine Clark shared photographic evidence that the entrepreneur had vanished from the LA party scene and was hiding in South America. At least one photograph placed Lubaszka in Colombia on May 9, 2012. One of the images uploaded to a blog hinted that the broker had already broken into the fashion world in the aftermath of his gold coins monumental fiasco. Shortly after, the photos were removed. The blog author did not respond to a request for comment.
“What we heard at that time is that he had some kind of grand opening for a high-end fashion store in Colombia,” Clark explains.
Then, Lubaszka did what he does best: He faded again.
Before long, the runaway broker had ventured through the ‘trochas,’ the clandestine paths stretching from Colombia to Venezuela, to appear in downtown Maracaibo – known as a hot spot for criminal activity. “He was sitting there alone with one bag in his hand. His clothes were dirty, torn, and he looked lost,” says in an exclusive interview Rubén Turtulici, a Venezuelan-Italian pastor with the Mustard Tree Missions currently based in Dubai. “He said his name was David from Canada, that he’d been kidnapped and robbed by the Colombian guerrillas and that he’d lost his money and his passport.”
Turtulici and his network of pastors found Lubaszka a place to stay as they reached out to the Canadian Embassy for assistance. Days later, the broker vanished with a laptop he had borrowed from the young Christian lady who had initially found him downtown Maracaibo. When Lubaszka reappeared two weeks later, his clothes were dirty and torn. And the laptop was gone. Despite all this, the Turtulici family opened the doors of their modest home to Lubaszka, let him stay in the guest room, provided free food, a shower, took him to cibercafés so he could email his family and even drove him to Jiu-Jitsu sessions to “release some tension.”
“In a country like Venezuela, the standards of living are very low and you can go for two weeks without taking a shower. I didn’t earn enough money to be able to provide for another person for a prolonged period of time,” says Turtulici. “And Marc also ate a lot….”
One day Lubaszka asked the pastor to take him to the dentist. “He was obsessed over his teeth and wanted to get a dental, and I said: ‘David, I can’t afford that’. The next thing I knew is that he’d managed to get a free dental using his charm and charisma. He knew how to talk people into doing things for him.”
Erratic behavior, lies and contradictions as Lubaszka used the generosity of a Venezuelan-Italian pastor
While in Turtulici’s home, Lubaszka offered a glimpse of his own personality and often-erratic behavior. He covered the computer camera with a piece of paper, didn’t allow anyone to take photos of him, took prescription medication for an alleged mental disorder and bragged about an offer he’d received to star in porn movies while living in his Hollywood Hills mansion. As astonishing and contradictory as it sounded to Turtulici, Lubaszka also portrayed himself as a Christian yet allegedly encouraged drug consumption among his workers.
“He told me he preferred that his employees did cocaine over marijuana, because the former enhances job performance even if it shortens your life span,” recounts the pastor.
As an insatiable entrepreneur looking for his next big break in the gold industry, Lubaszka offered the pastor a global business partnership: To become the face of the broker’s future gold mine operations in Venezuela and online promotional campaign. “He wanted to put up multiple gold-related websites to ensure they would rank first in search engine results when people looked for gold. I’d be the face, he’d be the brains,” says the pastor. “I told him it was a crazy idea and that I didn’t care about making money. I do humanitarian work.”
Over the course of the days, the pastor became increasingly suspicious about Lubaszka’s intentions and identity. Red flags were starting to show up everywhere, including his refusal to get a new passport. But it was on a visit to Zulia’s oil wells when the pastor finally got the tip that exposed Lubaszka’s real identity.
“He said he worked for a doctor who had a foundation for children with cleft lip. I looked it up online and found a photo of them together. That’s how I knew his name was not David but Marc Lubaszka, and that his victims were looking for him in the US,” the pastor explains.
Turtulici, however, decided not to confront Lubaszka about his identity, and the broker got to spend Christmas with his host family. Shortly after, he was asked to leave. By then, Lubaszka had spent a month and a half in Maracaibo. “I felt very bad as I was dropping him off at Maracaibo’s Central Hospital emergency room, but I could no longer help him,” regrets the pastor.
“He didn’t take responsibility for his actions, blamed others for his past mistakes and believed that he didn’t have to abide by the laws. He was a narcissist in paradise because, in a lawless country like Venezuela, the FBI wouldn’t come down looking for him,” he explains. “Also the fact that he survived Maracaibo and Venezuela makes Marc immortal.”
Lubaszka’s return to the USA and his alleged links to Venezuela’s organized crime syndicates
Following his voyage through South America, Lubaszka was seen attending business conferences in California around 2016. He then vanished again and re-surfaced online in 2018. His then-created Facebook and LinkedIn accounts indicate that he was living and working in Brazil and confirmed that he’d been learning the ins and outs of the gold mining industry in Maduro’s Venezuela.
Confident perhaps in his knowledge of the Orinoco region, Lubaszka made another bold move: He dedicated one section of his website to offering gold mining investment opportunities starting at $50,000 and going all the way up to $250,000. “This includes all necessary bribe money to get the equipment past the military check points and the fee required by the organized crime syndicate that you have to pay to enter the region,” states the self-proclaimed gold expert on his site.
But in 2018, time was running out for the victims as the statute of limitations for any potential fraud charges against Lubaszka was coming to an end. At the time, the FBI was still the victims’ best bet, but it was becoming clear that even that was a long shot. “I had spoken with attorneys and they had said that our only option was to file a class-action lawsuit. Even then, we probably would not be able to recover any money, so my only hope was the FBI,” explains Coonrod.
The victims’ worst fears realized on a letter sent by the FBI dated May 17, 2019 confirming that the investigation into Aurum Advisors, Gold Coins Gain and Lubaszka had been closed. Along with their money, their best shot ever at seeing Lubaszka stand trial for his offenses had shattered before their eyes. Lubaszka’s wrongdoing and any possible fraud charges related to his businesses slipped through everyone’s fingers.
“We tried to get an arrest warrant so he’d be arrested coming back into the country (USA), but it was not ordered and the statute of limitations on fraud charges expired,” Gern explains. “Truth is to be damned. Listen to the words of Leonard Cohen’s song called ‘Everybody Knows.’ Folks like Marc Lubaszka know the game well.”
Unraveling Lubaszka’s shady settlement offer to his victims
In 2020, Gern, Coonrod and Clark were among several victims who filed claims against Lubaszka through his website, where he had put up a “Resolution” notice inviting them to settle cases related to his past and defunct businesses in the US. In the page, Lubaszka falsely states that 100% of the claims against him have been satisfactorily resolved. It was, indeed, another act of deceit. But it wouldn’t be his last.
According to documents exclusively obtained by this outlet, multiple victims received settlement offers in the mail. Attached was a letter written by Lubaszka that, at first glimpse, sounded genuine and authentic – a rare heartfelt apology from the gold dealer, who acknowledged that the victims and their families had suffered for many years:
“It was not my intent to allow this situation to go unaddressed for so long. I know you and your family have suffered, as have I. We are here today to resolve the problems that have plagued you for so long.”
Gern was offered 44 shares of Emerging Market Technology Management, Inc., an EMT fund that Lubaszka registered in New York in 2018. Clark received an offer of 148 shares – all as a “gift” from the fund’s President. “When I read that the shares were valued at $1,100, it sounded like a scam”, says Clark.
Retired police officer Travis Benson, who has searched low and high for Lubaszka without being able to track him down, also declined the offer: “I did not sign the papers he sent out trying to get me to trade for his worthless Venezuelan stock.”
A closer look at the last page of the transfer agreement shows Lubaszka’s shaky signature, which doesn’t match his signature on the agreement’s “Issuance Resolution” page and other readily available public documents he filed with the Secretary of State of the State of California in 2005 and 2009 linked to previous – and suspended – companies: John Brown, Inc. and Fidelis Systems, Incorporated.
Along with the settlement offer, Lubaszka provided two envelopes with two different hand-written return addresses: The victims were instructed to mail in the signed share transfer agreement to James Madison, the EMT Fund’s registered agent in New York City, while the issuance resolution had to be sent to Bill Saeger, VP of Pacific Stock Transfer in Las Vegas, the company responsible for facilitating the share transfer.
However, Saeger confirmed to me via email that the company had “resigned” as Lubaszka’s transfer agent and had no affiliation with the broker or his shareholders.
Possibly, in an attempt to legitimize his EMT Fund, Lubaszka had previously created an amateurish-looking blog on his investment company and distributed a press release announcing the company’s launch through One Media Maker, a PR company operating out of a fake physical address in New York with a non-working phone number. The media contact person was Anthony Cohen, aka Marc Lubaszka.
The broker also tried to add another layer of credibility to his EMT Fund by creating a fake Medium account under the name of renowned British financier Jason Butler that featured a stolen photo of the expert. In March 2018, the fake Butler published a glowing article entitled “Marc Lubaszka is heading a $1 Billion Emerging Market Technology Market Technology Fund” falsely claiming that nearly two dozen of the world’s wealthiest investors had thrown money into the fund. No investors were ever quoted. None ever published press releases announcing their participation in Lubaszka’s venture. And the EMT Fund fake story and the fake Butler account were taken down by Medium in early 2021 for violating community terms.
By then, it was all clear: Lubaszka’s settlement offer using his EMT Fund had delivered ‘zero, zilch, nada’ for his victims. “It was just another scam,” Clark regrets over the phone.
In the broker’s own words, his “gift” was “all” he could “offer at this time.” But in the face of yet another disappointment, the victims had already been tipped off on Lubaszka’s latest business venture, a private jet company registered in Delaware at the end of 2019 named Fly Private X that featured attractive models and flight attendants, pilots from all over the US and an impressive fleet of private and commercial jets: All smoke and mirrors once again. But as it’s often the case with the entrepreneur with the “golden touch,” there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Lubaszka never replied to multiple requests for comment. I did receive a cease-and-desist email from his attorney, John Tamborelli, who demanded that I stop my investigation into Lubaszka’s business partner, Hadari Oshri, and threatened legal action if I published any documents or testimony from one of my sources. As of today, I am still waiting to hear Lubaszka’s and Oshri’s side of the story.
*Don’t miss PART II of this investigative series: Dispatches from a news reporter that ran into a conman, his nonexistent fleet of private jets, and intricate web of deceit and lies and a PPE scheme linked to Houston energy exec Arael Doolittle – all amid the pandemic.
**If you’d like to share your testimony or story, please contact the reporter at email@example.com or connect with her on Facebook. All emails are checked for legitimacy, spam and viruses and deleted when suspicious malware is detected.
***Featured image: A screenshot of Marc Lubaszka’s private jet company, Fly Private X, currently under construction.