SEC Charges Texas Insurance Agent in Million Dollar Scam

By Matt Ackermann

December 23, 2009

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed securities fraud charges against an Austin, Texas investment advisor and two of his businesses alleging he conducted a “multi-million dollar scam” that used former professional football players to promote its offerings.  

The SEC alleged in a filing Tuesday that Kurt B. Barton and Triton Financial LLC, raised more than $8.4 million from approximately 90 investors by selling “investor units” in an affiliate, Triton Insurance, and telling investors that their money would be used to purchase an insurance company.  

The SEC alleged that Barton, who is chief executive officer of Triton, instead used the funds to pay day-to-day expenses at Triton Financial and its affiliate. Triton co-sponsors the Heisman Trophy Trust, an organization that annually honors the best player in college football.

According to the complaint, which was filed in federal court in Austin, Triton used former football players as well as stockbrokers and other salesmen to promote securities and recruit potential investors.  The investment advisory firm, which according to its Web site invests in real estate and manages the securities portfolios of athletes and other clients, has raised more than $50 million for at least 40 ventures since 2004, according to the complaint.

Toby Galloway, a regional trial counsel in the SEC’s Fort Worth regional office, said that the former players aren’t facing any charges right now, but the SEC continues to “look at everyone involved.”

“There is no doubt that having these gridiron greats out there selling these investments certainly played a role in Barton stiff arming money from investors,” he said.

Former Heisman Trophy winners Ty Detmer and Chris Weinke work for Triton along with Jeff Blake, a former NFL quarterback Blake who directs Triton’s “athlete services” department, which is a marketing arm for Triton that recruits players as clients.

“By associating with former football stars, they were able to build a facade of legitimacy and gain investor trust,” said Rose Romero, the director of the SEC’s Fort Worth regional office.

Barton and Triton, which has been registered with the Texas State Securities Board as an investment advisory firm since June 2006, have consented to court orders freezing their assets.  

According to an emailed statement from Barton’s attorney, Joe Turner, Barton “has voluntarily consented to the appointment of a receiver. He intends to work closely with the receiver in an effort to ensure that the investors, many of whom are friends and relatives, do not lose their money.”

In March, Sports Illustrated published an article that described how Triton used former football players to promote its business. Following the article, the Texas State Securities Board conducted an examination of the company. According to the SEC’s complaint, Barton and Triton provided the Texas State Securities Board “with altered and fabricated documents during the examination that followed the article’s publication.

The SEC charged Barton and Triton with securities fraud and seeks permanent injunctions, disgorgement of illegal gains and financial penalties.  The regulator also wants an asset freeze and a receiver over defendants’ assets and operations.