Allen Frederick Wichtendahl, 60, and Diana Stewart, 49, both of Lowell (Benton County) are accused of collecting payments in exchange for ownership in a purportedly lucrative business venture involving a Nigerian power plant and other projects. The 16-count indictment was handed down by a federal grand jury in Fort Smith.
Court documents accuse Wichtendahl of soliciting individuals to invest in an enterprise he called "New Vision Technology." Investors would send him payments in exchange for "parts" of the enterprise. His scheme began in Florida during the mid-1990s and continued when he moved to Northwest Arkansas in June 2009.
Court officials say soon after arriving in Arkansas, Wichtendahl met Stewart, and, in July 2009, she began helping him in his scheme to defraud investors. Wichtendahl coaxed investors by representing that New Vision Technology sold products in Bulgaria and planned to build a power plant, sell tractors, and establish a cassava processing facility in Nigeria.
Wichtendahl also allegedly established a misleading website and represented that he had made a $12 million capital investment in the company. From July 2009 to September 2012, Wichtendahl and Stewart collected over one million dollars from investors. The majority of this money was used to pay for Wichtendahl and Stewart's personal expenses and to maintain the appearance of a legitimate business enterprise. Investors received nothing in return for their money.
As a result of various activities during the commission of their alleged scheme, Wichtendahl was charged with three counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, four counts of securities fraud, four counts of selling an unregistered security, and two counts of money laundering. Stewart was charged with aiding and abetting all 16 counts and will face the same penalties. They face the following maximum penalties for each count charged: (1) mail fraud--$250,000 fine and 20 years imprisonment; (2) wire fraud--$250,000 fine and 20 years imprisonment; (3) securities fraud--$5 million fine and 20 years imprisonment; (4) failure to register a security--$10,000 fine and 5 years imprisonment; (5) money laundering--$250,000 fine (or twice the amount of criminally derived property) and 10 years imprisonment.
"As this case and others demonstrate, it is a priority for our office to investigate and prosecute those who swindle investors out of their hard-earned money by fraud and deceit," said Conner Eldridge, United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas.
"Today's indictment demonstrates the continued commitment of the FBI and our law enforcement partners to identify and root out investment fraud schemes," stated Randy Coleman, Special Agent in Charge of the Arkansas Federal Bureau of Investigation. "We will continue to work together to aggressively investigate those who choose to participate in these fraud schemes - no matter how elaborate - which deprive our citizens of their hard-earned dollars."