Sinking money into foreign properties is about as risky an investment as you can find, as consumers who bought property in a supposed luxury development in Belize have learned.
"Sanctuary Belize" was presented as a luxury development located in a tropical paradise stuffed with all the usual amenities. It was backed by Andris Pukke, supposedly a highly successful developer of luxury properties elsewhere.
But, according to the Federal Trade Commission, Pukke was actually a prior defendant in another case before the agency and the supposed luxury development fell far below what clients had been promised.
Pukke was arrested in Los Angeles in April 2023 and charged with embezzling more than $13 million.
“Andris Pukke sold residential lots in Belize with a promise to build out an affordable vacation and retirement community in a tropical paradise," said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams. "Instead, Pukke’s planned paradise turned out to be just a mirage, as he allegedly stole the very funds the development needed to pay for roads, utilities, and other infrastructure, leaving the lot buyers with nothing but land they cannot access or use."
The illusion fades
Pukke's sanctuary began to crumble in November 2018 when the FTC filed a complaint charging that Pukke had deceived his investors. The agency won its case in 2020 and today began sending refunds totaling approximately $10 million to consumers nationwide. The average amount of each check is $8,286.47.
Pukke, 54, of Newport Beach, Calif., promised investors that the development, when finished, would be near an international airport and hospital and would include a marina, a wildlife reserve, a beach club, and an equestrian center, among other amenities, Williams said. Lot buyers could construct homes on their lots once the infrastructure, such as roads and electricity, was built out by Sanctuary Belize.
Pukke and his salespeople falsely represented to lot buyers that Sanctuary Belize was free of debt and that all income from lot sales would go to the development of Sanctuary Belize's infrastructure. In fact, Sanctuary Belize had more than $12 million in debt, and Pukke stole more than $13 million of the $124 million that Sanctuary Belize received from sales of residential lots, prosecutors said.
Pukke allegedly used the embezzled funds for his personal benefit, including the renovation of his home in Newport Beach; investments in various entities unrelated to Sanctuary Belize; investments in unrelated real estate developments; repayment of personal debt; and payments to family members.
Consumers who receive checks should cash them within 120 days, as indicated on the check. Consumers with questions about their refunds should email the receiver, Marc-Philip Ferzan, who is being supported by Ankura Consulting Group, LLC, at [email protected].
Pukke's prior case
It's not the first rodeo for Pukke. In 2011, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for concealing assets during court proceedings against AmeriDebt, his now-defunct debt-counseling company, according to a Washington Examiner report.
AmeriDebt was intended to help people lower payments and receive counseling. It became one of the country's largest debt-counseling services before the Federal Trade Commission filed a 2003 lawsuit, accusing Pukke of funding a lavish lifestyle for himself by charging debtors $172 million in hidden fees.
A 2006 settlement with the FTC required him to turn over all assets to a $35 million restitution fund to pay back the victims. Prosecutors said he lied about and concealed assets to avoid doing so, the Examiner said.