Before Metro Dream, A 2001 Ponzi Accusation

By Elizabeth Razzi
Sunday, August 12, 2007

People who are trusting Andrew H. Williams to profitably invest tens of thousands of dollars of home equity through his Metro Dream Homes program may be interested in knowing a bit more about the history of their business partner.

In 2001, at a previous business venture, he consented to a permanent shutdown order. At the time, the Maryland attorney general's office said the business had violated securities laws and "had the indications" of an illegal Ponzi scheme.

Metro Dream Homes recruits home buyers to pay a premium above asking price and sign over the extra funds to the company. In return, the local company promises to invest the money in businesses so profitable that it can donate large sums to charities while paying off participants' mortgages in five to seven years.

Last Sunday's column about Metro Dream Homes drew dozens of e-mails from readers expressing incredulity at the way the program operates and relaying their own experiences with the unusual home-sale transactions.

In 2001, J. Joseph Curran Jr., then Maryland's attorney general, obtained a permanent injunction shutting down Bankcard Group Inc., a Prince George's County-based ATM and bank card business that Williams ran. The company and two of its executives, one of them Williams, were accused of violating Maryland securities laws by operating an unregistered and fraudulent automated teller machine investment program.

According to the press release the attorney general's office put out six years ago, BGI raised as much as $3 million from at least 200 investors. The company purported to sell investors interests in ATMs, the fees generated by the machines, and shares in BGI itself, the attorney general's office said.

According to the attorney general's statement: "The Securities Division brought the action not only to halt the registration violations, but also because the BGI investment program had the indications of a 'Ponzi scheme'; there was no business or investment to generate the profits promised to investors, but rather the money invested was used to repay previous investors, and so on."

Williams consented to the 2001 permanent injunction order without admitting or denying violation of the Securities Act.

Today, Williams is chief executive of Metropolitan Grapevine LLC, a Prince George's County-based ATM and bank card business that is being relied upon to pay off hundreds of participants' mortgages. It is the parent company of Metro Dream Homes and a number of related businesses.

This time, Williams says, it's different.

In an interview last week at Metropolitan Grapevine's downtown D.C. office, I asked Williams whether the 2001 legal action is hindering his business today.

"No, as a matter of fact, I think we've made total awareness to all of our current partners and business associates," he said. ". . . While we had to settle with the state, that particular business model has been terminated at this time. And I think all parties agreed on this settlement of that business, and we've been able to, basically, look at our formal partners of that business and come up with some satisfaction for them.

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