Pagudpud resort on the spot; 15 charged by California Attorney General for alleged ‘scam;’ wider probe looms

AN ARCHITECT'S AERIAL VIEW of the supposed Pagudpud Sands Resort in Ilocos Norte from the resort's website

OAKLAND/PAGUDPUD, Ilocos Norte – Pagudpud is a small town at the northern tip of Ilocos Norte but over the years became famous because of its beautiful beaches and resorts and natural attractions, earning the title “Boracay of the North.”

Reachable through beautiful roads and only an hour or so from Laoag City, the capital of the province, or almost an hour by plane from Manila, Pagudpud is also noted for some caves, islands, waterfalls and windmills just like its neighboring town of Bangui.

Lately, it was on the spotlight again, but this time not as “a true tropical paradise of the North Philippines” as touted but due to an alleged investment scam which had reportedly victimized many Filipinos in California, especially in the Sacramento area, involving what is touted as the Pagudpud Sands Resort supposedly along the town’s Pasaleng Bay scenic beach.

It was promoted that the resort, featuring two seven-story luxury five-star condo-tels, cabanas, infinity pools, spa fitness and wellness centers, a zip line, and nearby blue lagoon and waterfalls, among others, based on its website (still active at press time) was supposed to be opened in 2019.

According to its website, the pre-selling price of the resort with 15% off starts at $84,304 for a one-bedroom unit. The website post includes an architectural design for one, two and three bedroom units, with interior renderings, which, it was learned, could be available later on a time-sharing arrangement.

Many investors to the resort, however, were peeved as the resort has not officially opened as promised and thus their hard-earned money has not earned.

Meanwhile, California Attorney General Rob Bonta has charged 15 people with allegedly conspiring to defraud mostly elderly victims of Filipino descent out of a combined $5 million investment in Pagudpud Sands Resort even as wider investigation loomed.

The California Department of Justice, it was learned, is seeking out additional victims who have been defrauded by the scheme and were urged to contact its office at (800) 722-0432.

The 15 were accused of bilking at least 30 victims mostly in the Sacramento and Stockton areas through what Bonta alleged was an international Ponzi scheme framed around the construction of the Pagudpud Sands Resort.

Bonta, the first Filipino-American to be named the state’s attorney general, said the resort in the Philippines has not opened or produced any income. His office could not immediately say if any of those charged have defense attorneys.

Supposed officials and partners of the resort project have not issued statements to the Philippine News Today in response to the charges. In 2019, the Philippine News, through Jun Nucum, had a report on the project on representation by the resort.

While the unnamed persons were officially charged, under the law, a criminal complaint contains charges that are only allegations against a person. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty, it was stated.

Prosecutors alleged that the defendants have lied to potential investors at group sales presentations since late 2015 to encourage their investments.

One 83-year-old invested $230,000, the charges say, while others invested tens of thousands of dollars. An 84-year-old woman put in $500,000.

The perpetrators, it was alleged in the complaint, falsely said a major, well-known hotel company identified in the AG statement as Wyndham Resorts had committed to manage the resort, prosecutors said.

Victims were paid “interest” on their investments that actually came from other victims’ investments and not the resort itself, it was alleged.

Instead of funding the resort, prosecutors said most of the money went to paying two of the defendants at least $10,000 a month. Thousands of dollars also went to commissions for those who brought in additional investors or for other unrelated marketing schemes, the charges stated.

The 98 separate charges filed in Sacramento County Superior Court include grand theft, financial elder abuse, selling unqualified securities, securities fraud and communications containing untrue statements and omissions of material facts.

“Senior citizens were the direct targets of this fraudulent, international investment scheme. Our most vulnerable loved ones should never be deceived and defrauded of their hard-earned retirement money,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Those who take part in the financial abuse of elders must be held accountable for their actions.”

This case stems from a joint investigation conducted by the California Department of Justice’s Division of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (DMFEA), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of the Inspector General, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Through the DMFEA, the California Department of Justice works to protect Californians by investigating and prosecuting those who perpetrate fraud on the Medi-Cal program. DMFEA also investigates and prosecutes those responsible for abuse, neglect, and fraud committed against elderly and dependent adults in the state. The Division regularly works with whistleblowers and law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute crimes.