ANDERSON, S.C. - A federal judge has frozen the assets of more than 30 people, companies and trusts connected with a Ponzi scheme that authorities say bilked investors out of $52 million.
Authorities already had seized the assets from Alliance Trust and Chemical Trust, which investigators said were used as fronts in the scheme.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge G. Ross Anderson Jr. froze the assets of eight people and 28 companies and trusts in South Carolina, Arizona, Florida, Nevada and the Bahamas, many of which were thought to be shell companies.
Greenville attorney Beattie Ashmore, who has been appointed receiver in the case, said the trusts can operate for months before investors realize anything is wrong.
Virgil Womack, of Seneca, is accused of masterminding the scheme, which attracted 1,275 investors by promising guaranteed returns on high-yield government securities and real estate investments.
Womack; his wife, Cheryl Womack; and Clifton Wilkinson, of Toccoa, Ga., are charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. Wilkinson's wife, Cheryl Wilkinson; and Alvin A. Tang, of Scottsdale, Ariz., have pleaded guilty to conspiracy and are waiting to be sentenced. All except Mrs. Wilkinson had their assets frozen.
Anderson also froze the assets of George H. Williamson Sr., Fred Morgenstern, Lewey L. Cato III and Allan J. Clarke. A staffer in Ashmore's office, who would not give her name, said authorities didn't know where the individuals were from.
Last week, investigators estimated investors had lost $57 million in the scheme, but Ashmore said Monday that only $52 million had been identified.
Ashmore said more than $23.5 million has been recovered from domestic and offshore bank accounts, including $16.6 million that had been in a London bank. Authorities are ''still finding entities, still finding bank accounts'' as they go through ''boxes and boxes and boxes'' of records connected to the case, Ashmore said.
Last month, an insurance agent and his wife who sold investments in the scheme were found dead in their Amarillo, Texas, home in what police said appeared to be a murder-suicide. Lt. E.W. Smith of the Amarillo-area Special Crimes Unit said the financial dealings of Mayo and Jeanette Gilland McGhee had recently come under scrutiny.