Belize Real Estate Developer Charged With Wire Fraud and Embezzling Investor Funds

NEW YORK, New York – A Belize real estate developer, Andris Pukke, has been charged with wire fraud and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions in connection with the alleged embezzlement of more than US$13 million from Sanctuary Belize, a real estate development in Belize that he directed and controlled.

belsancSanctuary Belize (File Photo)The US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams, and Michael J. Driscoll, the assistant director in charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), said the indictment had been unsealed in a Manhattan federal court on Wednesday.

Williams said that Pukke, 54, was arrested Wednesday in Los Angeles, and has since been taken before the Central District of California.

“Andris Pukke sold residential lots in Belize with a promise to build out an affordable vacation and retirement community in a tropical paradise,” he said.

“Instead, Pukke’s planned paradise turned out to be just a mirage, as he allegedly stole the very funds the development needed to pay for roads, utilities, and other infrastructure, leaving the lot buyers with nothing but land they cannot access or use,” Williams said, adding “this office will continue to aggressively pursue consumer fraud to ensure that businesses deliver on their promises to their customers”.

Driscoll said the defendant, as alleged, sold his victims “dreams of a tropical haven” but  instead used their money for his own interests.

“Investigating and holding financial fraudsters like Mr. Pukke accountable in the criminal justice system remains a top priority for the FBI,” he added.

According to the indictment, Pukke directed and controlled Sanctuary Belize, which was a vacation and retirement community under development in Belize.

“Pukke marketed and sold residential lots in the development to US residents with promises that the development, when finished, would be near an international airport and hospital and would include a marina, a wildlife reserve, a beach club, and an equestrian center, among other amenities,” according to the indictment, noting that “lot buyers could construct homes on their lots once the infrastructure, such as roads and electricity, was built out by Sanctuary Belize.

“Pukke and his sales people falsely represented to lot buyers that Sanctuary Belize was free of debt and that all income from lot sales would go to the development of Sanctuary Belize’s infrastructure.

“In fact, Sanctuary Belize had more than US$12 million in debt, and Pukke stole more than US$13 million of the US$124 million that Sanctuary Belize received from sales of residential lots,” the indictment noted.

The indictment also alleges that Pukke stole the money by directing Sanctuary Belize employees to transfer the funds to recipients he designated.

“These transfers of funds were concealed on the books and records of Sanctuary Belize as business expenses, such as professional fees, legal fees, consulting fees, loans receivable and online advertising expenses.”

In addition, the indictment alleges that Pukke used the embezzled funds for his personal benefit, including the renovation of his home in California; investments in various entities unrelated to Sanctuary Belize; investments in unrelated real estate developments; repayment of personal debt; and payments to Pukke’s family members.

Williams said Pukke is charged with one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and one count of engaging in unlawful monetary transactions, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.