Brewer couple relieved over conviction in windmill scheme

Posted July 10, 2011, at 7:01 p.m.
Last modified July 10, 2011, at 10:29 p.m.

BREWER — Carolyn Thompson expressed relief Sunday that the California man who bilked her husband, Ray Thompson, out of $30,000 soon will be behind bars.

James Rivera, 42, of Carson, Calif., was convicted by a federal jury on Friday, June 24 of one count of mail fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

“I think it’s good,” Carolyn Thompson of Brewer said of his conviction. “He hurt a lot of people and was living a pretty high life.”

Rivera sold to investors the licensing rights to territories throughout the country for home windmills, according to the indictment. Rivera said he held patents on the alternator for the windmills and other components. He told investors that a large retail chain was interested in purchasing windmill units for its stores and that director Oliver Stone would use the windmill to provide electricity during the production of a film.

None of it was true.

The indictment also charged that in late 2008 Rivera began marketing a new bogus product called a Quick Energy Recovery Ventilator. How it was supposed to work was not outlined in the indictment.

Rivera’s conviction was announced Friday in a press release issued by the Maine Department of Professional Financial Regulation, which includes the state’s Office of Securities. That office issued a warning about Rivera’s operation in June 2008 after the Thompsons and others reported his activities.

“The office decided to issue this warning after receiving information that at least 10 Maine residents have invested in two Nevada corporations, Almighty Wind, Inc. and Apostles, Inc., supposedly developing new technologies using windmills,” the press release said.

“Based on information received from investors, Rivera appears to have used his participation in a nondenominational Christian church in California to identify potential investors, who in turn recommend other investors based in part on their shared religious beliefs. Investors reported that sales pitches were made over the Internet in so-called ‘webinars’ or teleconferences conducted by Rivera,” Judith Shaw, administrator for the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation warned three years ago.

She estimated Friday that Rivera bilked investors of “hundreds of millions dollars.”

Rivera was indicted by a federal grand jury in October 2010. He was arrested on Nov. 3, 2010 and released two weeks later after posting $75,000 in property as bail. Conditions of release included house arrest, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. His trial began on July 21.

Carolyn Thompson testified on the second day of the trial, she said Sunday.

“We learned about him through friends,” she said. “We were involved in an herbal company with them for over 10 years. They were contacted through her sister who was friends with people who had invested. That’s how he drew people in — friend to friend and relative to relative.”

Ray Thompson, who owns and operates a hardware store in West Enfield, mailed or wired three $10,000 checks to Rivera between February and April 2008, his wife said.

“We were hoping to get this established to help our children so they would have secure futures,” Carolyn Thompson said. “We were excited about helping with green energy. We’d expected the windmill would create excess electricity so homeowners would be able to sell it back to the grid and that might cover the cost of the leases for homeowners.”

That dream evaporated in April 2008, when the Thompsons were among about 200 investors who went to Las Vegas to see a prototype of the windmill. It looked nothing like the photographs they had been shown and was hooked up to a generator but not installed at a home, according to Carolyn Thompson.

“When we got to Las Vegas and actually saw what he had up as a windmill,” she said, “everyone was very upset and began to doubt him. After that, a lot of people started asking for their money back. Of course, we never got it.”

Carolyn Thompson said neither she nor her husband regularly use computers and listened to the “webinars” over the telephone but did not use a computer to participate.

“It never occurred to me to ‘Google’ his name,” she said of Rivera.

She took excellent notes, kept records of all communications with him and took pictures of many of the investors who attended the Las Vegas event.

“I jokingly said, ‘I’m taking these in case the FBI needs them some day,’” she said.

Copies of the pictures she took and information she gathered were turned over to the FBI’s Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Unit, but not all of it was used during the trial.

Carolyn Thompson said she and her husband had learned a valuable lesson from their involvement with Rivera and are more cautious about investing now.

“The Almighty Wind case shows how easy it is for even sophisticated individuals to be taken in by a persuasive con,” Shaw said in the press release issued Friday. “The Maine victims thought they were asking all the right questions and doing their homework, but the problem was they trusted the defendant to provide truthful information. It was only when the investors had a chance to view the windmill technology on an inspection trip that suspicions were raised. Unfortunately, by that time, the Thompsons and other victims had already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Shaw stressed the importance of checking out any investment opportunity and its promoter with state securities regulators, in addition to other research.

“If the Maine victims in this case had checked with our office before investing, this scheme would have quickly unraveled,” she said.

Rivera’s sentencing was set for Sept. 12. He remains free on bail but still is under house arrest.

He faces up to 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and is expected to be ordered to pay restitution to his victims.

Shaw said Friday that Rivera most likely would be sent to prison for between 10 and 12 years.

Carolyn Thompson said she would submit an impact statement, and encourage other victims in Maine to do the same, to the court in California before the sentencing.

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