Los Angeles–A San Gabriel Valley woman was arrested this morning on a criminal complaint alleging she fraudulently solicited $21.6 million in funds for a condominium and hotel complex in the Coachella Valley, then spent a significant portion of her victims’ money on her own lavish living expenses, including luxury cars, travel, and designer clothing.
Ruixue “Serena” Shi, 36, of Arcadia, was taken into custody by special agents of the FBI. She has been charged with one count of wire fraud and is expected to make her initial appearance this afternoon in United States District Court.
According to an affidavit filed with the complaint filed Wednesday and unsealed today, between November 2015 and July 2018, Shi solicited investments for the Hyde Resorts and Residences Coachella Valley. Hyde Resorts was to be a 207-unit luxury condominium and hotel complex that was supposed to have a total of 95,000 square feet of on-site conference facilities, a pool, spa, fitness center and other amenities.
Shi was the president and owner of Global House Buyer (GHB), a China-based real estate development company, and also was CEO of the Beverly Hills-based company Hyde Morgan Development, LLC, the affidavit states. The Hyde complex was to be developed by GHB while Hyde Morgan solicited investments.
Shi contacted prospective investors in the Hyde complex – who mostly were based in China – through sales presentations she gave at hotels, radio advertisements, and through the solicitation of investments over forums on WeChat, a Chinese messaging, social media, and mobile payment application, according to the affidavit.
Among the false representations Shi allegedly made to her victims to induce them to invest was that the Hyde development was scheduled to begin construction in 2017. Investors were told they would be purchasing condos ranging in price from $400,000 to $700,000, according to the affidavit. Investors were required to pay 40 percent of the total purchase price upfront as a down payment, but Shi promised that GHB would help them finance the remaining balance with loans from U.S.-based banks when the project was completed.
Chinese investors in the Hyde project were falsely told that their investments with Shi would enable them to obtain visas through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, the affidavit states. EB-5 is a federal program that allows foreign investors to secure a U.S. visa by investing a large sum of money to finance a business in the United States that employs American workers. One victim told law enforcement that Shi told her that Shi would procure a long-term visa for her through the EB-5 Program if she invested $500,000 in the Hyde project, the affidavit states.
Shi also allegedly told investors that GHB had purchased a 47-acre lot of land in Coachella Valley where the Hyde development was to be built. In reality, Shi purchased only 20 acres of that property, the affidavit states. Shi also falsely told investors that GHB had obtained the required city development approvals for the Hyde development, which included the re-zoning of the land she purportedly had purchased, when no such approvals had been given.
When some victim-investors began demanding refunds after hearing GHB no longer was in operation in the United States, Shi allegedly offered them partial refunds if they signed a contract purporting to prevent them from disclosing they had received the refund. She also allegedly sent investors phony photographs purporting to be of construction that was underway. In truth, GHB never began construction on the Hyde development and never purchased the entire plot of land where the development was to be built, the affidavit states.
Bank records allegedly show that Shi transferred the victims’ funds to her personal accounts and then misappropriated a significant portion of victims’ money for her own expenses. For example, she allegedly used $2.2 million of investor money to pay a company that provided luxury travel and concierge services, nearly $295,000 to purchase two Mercedes-Benz automobiles, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy clothes, restaurant meals, and hotel stays in Beverly Hills, France, Thailand and China.
If convicted, Shi would face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.