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The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has taken action against a San Diego penny stock firm and its head, and, in a separate case, against a San Diego stock promoter who appears to have played a major role in a Ponzi scheme. Yesterday (May 30), the SEC filed an action in Florida against a group of penny stock promoters including San Diego-based Unico, an issuer of penny stocks, and its chief executive, Mark A. Lopez. According to the agency's complaint, the defendants distributed billions of dollars of penny stock shares in violation of federal laws. Earlier, the agency filed suit against a group that raised $163 million from 1,200 investors for the purported building of two Caribbean resorts. James B. Catledge of San Diego used a multilevel marketing operation to raise the money through false promises that the investments were safe and would pay 12% annually, said the SEC. He was charged with fraud, unjust enrichment, and sale of unregistered securities. The money the group raised went to exorbitant commissions and to pay off early investors -- therefore, it was a Ponzi scheme, according to the SEC.

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