Owner of Purported U.K. Investment Firm and Two Richmond-Area Men Charged for Roles in Investment Fraud Scheme

Richmond, Virginia - The owner of a purported investment company based in the United Kingdom and two alleged co-conspirators were charged in an indictment unsealed Monday for their alleged participation in an investment fraud scheme by which they allegedly stole at least $6.2 million from victim investors.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Inspector in Charge Delany De Leon-Colón of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Criminal Investigations Group and Special Agent in Charge David Archey of the FBI’s Richmond Field Office made the announcement.

Brian Michael Bridge, 46, of London, England, the owner of Chimera Group Ltd.; James Michael Johnson, 68, of Richmond, Virginia; and James Leonard Smith, 54, of Midlothian, Virginia, were each charged in an indictment filed in the Eastern District of Virginia with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of wire fraud. Johnson and Smith made their initial appearances in Richmond today. Bridge remains at large.

The indictment alleges that Bridge – working with Johnson and Smith in the Richmond area – operated a worldwide scheme through Chimera Group Ltd. The scheme operated as an advance fee scheme which involved the defendants as promoters who promised to pay the victims a sum of money at a later date in exchange for an upfront advanced payment.   Among other misrepresentations, Bridge, Johnson and Smith allegedly told potential victims that their principal payments would be protected based on letters of credit and other documents that purported to be from a large financial institution.  However, these letters were fabricated, the indictment alleges.  The indictment also alleges that the defendants used escrow attorneys who were themselves part of the scheme in order to give the victims the appearance that their money would remain secure until the defendants’ promises had been kept.  Upon receiving the victims’ funds, those attorneys immediately forwarded the money out of their escrow accounts to the defendants and affiliated individuals, the indictment alleges.

The indictment alleges that the defendants stole at least $6.2 million from their victims.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. 

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Criminal Investigations Group and FBI’s Richmond Field Office investigated the case.  Trial Attorney Vasanth Sridharan of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael C. Moore of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and the Securities Division of the Virginia State Corporation Commission also provided assistance.