Tri-Cities man accused of organizing a $500,000 Ponzi scheme is now in jail — and facing more charges

Suspected Ponzi scheme organizer in Franklin court

Gabriel Ramos the alleged organizer of a $500,000 Ponzi scheme, sits with provisional defense attorney Michael Quillen in Franklin County Superior Court during his preliminary appearance via closed circuit television.
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Gabriel Ramos the alleged organizer of a $500,000 Ponzi scheme, sits with provisional defense attorney Michael Quillen in Franklin County Superior Court during his preliminary appearance via closed circuit television.

A Tri-Cities entrepreneur accused of operating a Ponzi scheme was booked into the Franklin County jail on Wednesday night.

Gabriel Ramos, 28, had been wanted since Monday, when a $25,000 arrest warrant was issued for 22 felony charges.

Ramos’ arrest came the same day more charges were filed against him — this time in Benton County.

A separate $25,000 warrant was issued in that case, which is connected to the alleged $500,000 investment scheme.

State investigators say over the course of nearly two years, Ramos defrauded at least 11 people by promising “huge profits” to people who wanted to invest in local small business borrowers.

The latest charges involve passing bad checks, also called check kiting, to two big investors and at HAPO credit union in an attempt to keep the complicated scheme going.

Charles Ponzi didn’t invent his eponymous pyramid scheme — but he lent star power to one of the oldest scams in the book. He also believed that his plan could have become a legitimate business.

He used several different accounts at the Richland-based financial institution, say investigators.

Ramos appeared in Franklin County Superior Court on Thursday via jail video link.

Ramos was granted a court-appointed attorney after temporary defense attorney, Michael Quillen, said Ramos receives some government assistance but also is recently employed making $1,800 and $2,000 a month.

Quillen didn’t address the $25,000 bail amount, leaving it to be brought up when Ramos returns to court next week.

Fundraising after bankruptcy

The Pasco man started fundraising just months after he filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. At the time, he said he was a web designer with his company Social WebNet.

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One of Ramos’ early investors, Miguel A. Miranda Jr., got in on the scam on the operating side, and the two eventually created G/M Business Investments, according to court documents.

Miranda, 41, was a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Kennewick at the time. He allegedly solicited people he knew through his real estate dealings.

Miranda also was charged Monday in Franklin County with 22 counts of first-degree theft and securities fraud, both with aggravating circumstances.

An attorney contacted Franklin prosecutors on Wednesday and arranged for Miranda to appear in court next Tuesday. However, Miranda’s $25,000 arrest warrant remains active and he still could be picked up by police before then.

New charges for check-kiting

Ramos was charged in Benton County Superior Court with five counts of unlawful issuance of a bank check.

Prosecutors in that case allege Ramos gave repayment checks to investors knowing that there was no money in his checking accounts to cover them.

He also caused HAPO to lose more than $75,000 in a check-kiting scheme in October 2016, court documents said.

Ramos and his wife in one day conducted multiple transactions at four different HAPO branches, including depositing bad checks and immediately withdrawing thousands of dollars in cash and purchasing cashier’s checks, documents said.

His wife, who had worked for HAPO, has not been charged criminally.

Promised 30-percent return

The two businessmen asked investors for a minimum $500, and said the money would be repaid within three months with a 30-percent return, documents said.

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Miguel Miranda, a Tri-Cities real estate agent, is charged with 22 felonies for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors.

They never identified the purported loan recipients, but told investors the loans were business owners like a landscaper, painter or contractor.

The pair allegedly used money from new investors to repay prior investors.

It all started to collapse in the fall of 2016 when they no longer had money to repay people, though investigators said they continued to claim the money would come in while also asking for more, court documents said.

Of the $500,000 raised from 11 people, more than $300,000 has yet to be returned, documents said. The alleged victims include an elderly cancer patient who was trying to raise money for her treatments and a father and son.

Ramos used the money to cover personal bills, buy cars and watches, and take lavish trips to Texas, Las Vegas, Disneyland and Mexico, according to a financial legal examiner with the Washington state Department of Financial Institutions’ securities division.

He also allegedly paid for his wedding in Pasco and a honeymoon in Dubai and the Maldives with investor funds.

Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.