GREENEVILLE — A former Kingsport MetLife broker allegedly stole approximately $6 million from MetLife customer accounts and invested the money in various real estate ventures, according to a lawsuit recently filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The SEC filed the lawsuit against Kingsport resident Mark Salyer in June citing three counts of fraud. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Greeneville.
According to the complaint, the SEC claims from June 2005 until October 2007 Salyer engaged in a scheme to defraud at least 33 MetLife customers by taking approximately $6 million from their accounts and investing the money in real estate ventures he had an interest in.
SEC officials claim Salyer was involved in several business activities outside the scope of his work at MetLife, including owning two other companies — Relief Defendant Horizon Holdings and Relief Defendant Salmar Investors Group.
In 2005, Salyer signed a contract to purchase a 3,372-acre piece of property in Leeds, Ala., for $25.9 million, paying approximately $1.6 million as a down payment. The property appraised at $53 million to $63 million.
Throughout 2005 and 2006, Salyer made payments on the contract. But after exhausting his own assets of approximately $1.2 million, Salyer began tapping into customer accounts to cover the payments, the lawsuit states.
SEC officials say the primary method Salyer used to pay on this contract and other properties was to forge customer signatures on wire distribution request forms, IRA distribution request forms and variable annuity surrender forms.
The lawsuit states the money was transferred from the various customer accounts to Salyer’s companies — Horizon and Salmar — and when questioned about the transfers from the customers, Salyer would tell them the money had simply been transferred to another investment fund.
Salyer forged customer signatures on at least 26 wire request forms, thus illegally diverting approximately $3.5 million from MetLife customer accounts, the SEC alleges.
In addition, SEC officials claim Salyer also convinced MetLife customers to invest funds in Horizon under the guise that it was a MetLife investment. At least 12 MetLife customers wrote checks directly to Horizon in the amount of $2.3 million — some wrote more than one check, and many checks were for six-figure amounts.
Glen Gordon, associate regional director of the SEC, said the commission is seeking a return of the money Salyer illegally took (along with penalties) and an injunction against Salyer prohibiting him from future violations.