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Deaf man charged with fake-stock scheme

The victims, who are also deaf, had invested $500,000

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Richard Wilkins says he and hundreds of other deaf people nationwide have fallen victim to a deaf Arizona man who preys upon their disability and steals their money.

The Provo man said he lost more than $20,000 after his former employer, Thuc Tri Nguyen, encouraged him to invest in Arizona-based Safari Media.

Nguyen revealed few details about the company, simply assuring Wilkins the value of the stock would skyrocket when Safari merged with a Japanese company, and Wilkins would soon become a wealthy man.

Wilkins fell for the sales pitch, and he isn't the only one.

The Utah Attorney General's Office's financial crimes division has identified seven other Utah victims — all of them deaf — who have invested up to $500,000 in Safari Media in the past two years.

"He has hurt thousands and thousands of people and have scattered their dreams by making up something that never existed," said Wilkins, 33, a volunteer executive director for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Advocacy Agency in Provo.

"We had many dreams because we thought we would be millionaires . . . to be able to donate to many deaf causes and to expand my organization," Wilkins said.

Nguyen, 36, has since been arrested and charged with 11 second- and third-degree felonies in connection with the bogus stock-selling.

According to charging documents, the stock was never registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, nor was Nguyen licensed to sell securities in Utah.

Assistant Attorney General Neal Gunnarson said Nguyen likely used his disability to forge a connection with his victims.

"The allegations are that he targeted those that were deaf," Gunnarson said. "He being deaf, there's an indication that there's a greater trust."

According to documents filed in 3rd District Court, Nguyen made many false claims to potential investors, including:

There was no risk because they were guaranteed their money back and could cash out at anytime.

The stock was fully refundable, and Safari would buy back the stock.

He did not receive any compensation if they chose to invest in Safari.

There was a small window of opportunity because the stock was going to increase within the week.

Each of the eight Utahns who invested in Safari was given different values of the company's stock, and none was fully apprised of the company's situation, which constitutes fraud under Utah law, Gunnarson said.

"Anyone who sells a security is obligated to give absolute full and complete disclosure about the security," Gunnarson said.

Wilkins was able to get $16,000 of his money back after he expressed suspicions about the investment, but he said he is still "financially devastated" by the experience.

Wilkins' wife, who is also deaf, was forced to get a job to support the couple and their three small children.

He said he has learned from the experience and hopes others also will learn from his mistakes. Before investing any funds with a company, double check with state regulatory agencies and the Securities and Exchange Commission, Wilkins said.

"Also, no matter how real the company looks, some criminals make their company look so professional that it is believable."

E-mail: awelling@desnews.com