AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– A CBS4 investigation exposing a Colorado-based Ponzi scheme has resulted in criminal charges. Federal prosecutors in Charlotte, North Carolina say Kristine Johnson, 60, of Aurora has agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud after using the Internet to bilk thousands of investors in a get-rich-quick scheme.
As CBS4 first reported in February, Johnson was the mastermind behind “The Achieve Community”, a multi-million dollar pyramid scheme. In a series of Internet videos The Achieve Community described itself as a ‘Lifetime Income Plan’. For $50, investors were sold a position in a matrix with the promise of a $400 return on each position, or an 800 percent return on investment.
But according to federal prosecutors, The Achieve Community operated as a fraudulent pyramid scheme where Johnson used money from later victims to pay returns to earlier investors at the top of the pyramid. Prosecutors also say Johnson misappropriated $200,000 for her own personal use.
Ultimately, the scheme began to crumble, investors around the world stopped being paid and victims started reaching out to CBS4. On Valentine’s Day, the SEC shutdown the Achieve Community and froze its assets.
As the news of the collapse started trickling down to investors, Pastor Daniel Duncan of Inman, South Carolina posted a video to the 20,000 members on the Achieve Community Facebook page.
“I was supposed to quit my two part-time jobs and provide for my family,” Duncan said.
He said he purchased 140 positions for $7,000.
“I’m sick of it. I’ve been lied to I don’t know what to believe no more,” Duncan said.
CBS4 also spoke with a mother from Castle Rock who invested $7,000 in the Achieve Community.
“I hope they can sleep at night,” she said. “They ruined so many people’s lives and so many people trusted what they said and believed the lies that they told.”
Denver securities lawyer James Thomaidis says people should be very skeptical of online investment offers and especially any investment promising an 800 percent return, like The Achieve Community.
“The biggest red flag for an investor should be the lack of transparency,” said Thomaidis. “In other words your money goes in a mystery box and the next thing you do it comes out double.”
At this time, Troy Barnes, who is named on the SEC complaint as a co-founder of the Achieve Community, has not been charged criminally. Johnson has agreed to pay restitution if a federal judge accepts her plea agreement. She could face 20 years in prison.
Written for cbsdenver.com by Mark Ackerman