A Canadian man rented a luxury downtown Los Angeles apartment and paid off personal debts by posing as a successful beverage entrepreneur and running a $7.5 million Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors, officials said Monday.
Khemraj Dave Hardat, 50, who lived at the Ritz-Carlton at L.A. Live, told victims that he had close ties with business executives and professional sports stars like Golden State Warrior player Steph Curry, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
He had been in custody since his arrest last November and pleaded guilty to five counts of wire fraud on April 22. He was then sentenced to more than seven years in federal prison. The judge in the case said Hardat was “not a misguided businessman; he was a very skillful fraudster.”
Hardat admitted to raising money from investors from August 2014 through November 2018 by telling people he was a businessman in the performance beverage and water-bottling industries. He told investors he had a doctorate and held relationships with business figures like computer entrepreneur Michael Dell and the CEO of PepsiCo, officials said. He also falsely claimed that Curry would be endorsing one of his company’s products, and that PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Inc. owed him more than $100 million after deals he had made with them.
Hardat supported his false claims by showing those he defrauded doctored photos of bank account statements with inflated balances, officials said.
One photo emailed to a victim showed a balance of nearly $500 million in one bank account, while another fake photo showed a bank account with a balance of nearly $170 million.
Officials said Hardat used funds from investors to pay off his debts, buy luxury cars worth more than $100,000, pay rent at the Ritz Carlton, pay tuition to exclusive private schools and buy tickets for sporting and entertainment events.
He admitted that he made payments to previous investors with new investors’ money. Officials estimate the investors suffered losses of more than $6.4 million.
Hardat apparently came to the U.S. fleeing the fallout of fraud crimes he committed in Canada and then overstayed his visit, prosecutors said in a sentencing memo.
During his time in the U.S. he “reconstituted his lucrative, luxurious life of financial crime,” the memo reads. No additional information about the alleged crimes committed in Canada were released.
“[Hardat] befriended neighbors, fellow parents at his children’s school, and entrepreneurial would-be co-venturers, whose trust, loyalty, and hopes he carefully nurtured, only to betray them at the earliest opportunity,” officials said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the sentence for the defendant.