Woodbridge Group of Companies - Preference and Fraudulent Transfer Defense Lawyer

Michael Goldberg (the "Plaintiff" or "Trustee"), in his capacity as Liquidating Trustee of the Woodbridge Liquidation Trust has begun filing complaints seeking to avoid and recover alleged preferential and/or fraudulent transfers pursuant to Sections 544, 547, 548, and/or 550 of the United States Bankruptcy Code. 

On August 16, 2019, the Trustee began filing complaints seeking to avoid and recover transfers to certain investors.  The first round of such complaints were aimed at those investors, derisively referred to as "Net Winners," who were lucky enough to have been paid in full for their investments.   More than 400 complaints have been filed as of December 3, 2019 seeking recovery of alleged actual fraudulent transfers stemming from a Ponzi Scheme involving the Woodbridge Companies and in some cases also seeking to avoid and recover from Defendants, or from any other person or entity for whose benefit the transfers were made, all preferential transfers of property that occurred during the ninety (90) day period prior to the commencement of the Woodbridge bankruptcy proceedings. That number may continue to rise.

The Liquidating Trustee also has made countless other demands seeking repayment of allegedly intentional fraudulent transfers.  Upon information and belief, the Trustee may also have made demands upon some of the other nearly 10,000 investors, those who were not paid in full.  It is expected that the Liquidating Trustee will continue filing avoidance actions against both investors and brokers, seeking to avoid and recover transfers as fraudulent and/or preferential.  We will continue to monitor the situation. 

Procedural History:

Beginning on December 4, 2017, and continuing with other filings through March 27, 2018, 306 Debtors comprising the Woodbridge Group of Companies, LLC, et al., each commenced a case by filing a voluntary petition for relief under chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code (the “Chapter 11 Cases”). The Chapter 11 Cases are jointly administered under Case No. 17-12560 (BLS). The First Amended Joint Chapter 11 Plan of Liquidation of Woodbridge Group of Companies, LLC and its Affiliated Debtors was confirmed on October 26, 2018, and became effective on February 19, 2019.

These adversary actions are before the Honorable Brendan L. Shannon.

Background, as alleged by Plaintiff:

Prior to the commencement of the Chapter 11 Cases, the Debtors operated a fraudulent investment "Ponzi Scheme." In its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order Confirming the First Amended Joint Chapter 11 Plan of Liquidation of Woodbridge Group of Companies, LLC and its Affiliated Debtors, entered on October 26, 2018 (the "Confirmation Findings"), at paragraph NN, the Bankruptcy Court found as follows:

NN. Conduct of a Ponzi Scheme. The evidence demonstrates, and the Bankruptcy Court hereby finds, that (i) beginning no later than July 2012 through December l, 2017, Robert H. Shapiro used his web of more than 275 limited liability companies, including the Debtors, to conduct a massive Ponzi scheme raising more than $1.22 billion from over 8,400 unsuspecting investors nationwide; (ii) the Ponzi scheme involved the payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors; and (iii) the Ponzi scheme was discovered no later than December 2017.
Through this fraudulent scheme, the Debtors raised over one billion dollars from approximately 10,000 investors as either Noteholders or Unitholders (collectively, "Investors").  Those Investors often placed a substantial percentage of their net worth (including savings and retirement accounts) with the Debtors and now stand to lose a significant portion of their investments and to be delayed in the return of the remaining portion. The quality of the Investors’ lives will likely be substantially and adversely affected by the fraud perpetrated by the Debtors.

Investors were often told that they were investing money to be loaned with respect to particular properties owned by third parties, that those properties were worth substantially more than the loans against the properties, and that they would have the benefit of a stream of payments from these third parties for high-interest loans, protected by security interests and/or mortgages against such properties. In reality, these statements were lies. Investors’ money was almost never used to make high-interest loans to unrelated, third-party borrowers, there was no stream of payments, Investors’ money was commingled and used for an assortment of expenses, including maintaining a lavish lifestyle for Shapiro and his family, brokers’ commissions, overhead (largely for selling even more notes and units to investors), and payment of principal and interest to existing investors. The money that was used to acquire property (almost always owned by a disguised affiliate) cannot be traced to any specific Investor. These are typical characteristics of Ponzi schemes.

Because the Debtors operated as a Ponzi scheme, obtaining new money from Investors into the Ponzi scheme conferred no net benefit on the Debtors; on the contrary, each new investment was a net negative. Money was siphoned off to pay the expenses described above, so that the Debtors actually received only a fraction of the investment dollars. New money also perpetuated the Ponzi scheme, enabling the Debtors to return fictitious profits to early Investors; in the absence of new investment, the house of cards would fall (as it eventually did). At the same time, each investment created an obligation to return to the defrauded Investor 100% of the investment, such that each new investment increased the Debtors’ liabilities and ultimately left them unable to satisfy their aggregate liabilities.

Defendant invested with the Debtors through the purchase of notes and/or units and received principal and interest payments from the Debtors with respect to the investment.  Defendant invested in notes and/or units with the Debtors and was paid in full for all investments prior to the Petition Date, including interest, and is thus a "Net Winner."

Common Defenses in Preference Actions

The United States Bankruptcy Code provides many affirmative defenses to preference actions, contained within Section 547(c). For example, the most common defenses that may be available to a Defendant under Section 547(c) may include:
•    the transfer was a contemporaneous exchange for new value given to the debtor (i.e., the debtor received something of value in exchange for the transfer); 11 U.S.C. §547(c)(1);
•    after such transfer, Defendant gave new value to or for the benefit of the debtor (i.e., the Defendant extended additional credit to the Debtor after receiving the transfer) 11 U.S.C. §547(c)(4); or
•    the transfer was in payment of a debt incurred by the debtor in the ordinary course of business or financial affairs of the debtor and the recipient (i.e., Defendant made the transfer under ordinary business terms). 11 U.S.C. §547(c)(2).
For more information, see our pages on Preference Defense Litigation: http://www.tobialaw.com/delaware-preference-defense-lawyer.html and Fraudulent Transfer Defense Litigation: https://www.tobialaw.com/defense-of-fraudulent-transfer-actions.html

If you were an investor in or conducted business with any of the Woodbridge Group of Companies and especially if you have received a demand letter or a complaint or if a complaint has been filed against you or your business, even if not yet served, contact us here, email us at info@tobialaw.com or call the firm’s Wilmington offices directly at (302) 655-5303 to schedule an initial consultation. We can discuss the situation and share with you our initial observations at no charge.
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