Big talk and big bucks: Texas scammers fooled dozens into investing in events like a Rihanna tour and the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight

The scam always started with a flashy display of wealth and mention of a well-known celebrity who was an investor. And it always ended with a victim losing their life savings.

Along the way, Sean T. Johnson, 42, of Dallas, tailored his scam based on his brand’s gender, age and lifestyle, prosecutors said.

He would claim to be involved in funding major events such as a party in Washington for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, a world tour by singer Rihanna, and even the much-hyped 2015 fight between boxing champions Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

If Johnson’s target could invest even a few thousand dollars, he promised they could get rich too. To make it look legitimate, prosecutors said Johnson would have his “assistants” send a written promissory note boasting they would get up to 40% back on their investment in a few months.

But according to federal authorities, there was no assistant and Johnson was not involved in staging events — the money went straight into his pockets.

Last week he was sentenced to a decade behind bars for ripping off $1 million from over a dozen victims. Some victims lost tens of thousands of dollars and others hundreds of thousands.

“For more than ten years, the defendant made his living by cheating people out of money – lots of people and lots of money,” prosecutors wrote in court documents, arguing for the harshest sentence. “He was a professional con man who used his good-natured and seemingly laid-back personality to endear himself to unsuspecting people, gaining their trust through a mixture of friendly banter and schoolyard bragging.”

Johnson’s attorney did not respond to a call for comment. His client has been behind bars since his arrest in 2018. He pleaded guilty in 2019.

Prosecutors say Johnson targeted people from all walks of life, including a sophisticated Miami real estate investor, a Washington DC limousine company and a London model and her family.

Johnson presented himself as an extremely wealthy businessman, often wearing high-end suits, arriving in a chauffeur-driven black Rolls Royce, and settling in the most exclusive nightclubs for expensive bottle service, according to court documents.

He would claim he is friends with celebrities like rapper Jay-Z. He showed the victims photos of him with Floyd Mayweather and said they were in the business together. He claimed financier Carl Icahn had been his mentor and taught him everything he knew. Johnson would talk about his 12-bedroom mansion outside of Atlanta or his penthouse in New York.

None of this was true, prosecutors said, and any wealth Johnson showed was paid for with money he stole from others.

“Once the defendant had won his victim, he would usually cater to his weakness — a young man with some extra money who wanted to turn it into a nest egg; a successful man who didn’t have time to turn his well-earned money into a bigger pile of cash; or, even sadder, a woman who sought romance and companionship but was instead taken for all her life savings,” prosecutors said.

In one instance, he invited a real estate agent from El Paso, Texas, to sit court at a San Antonio Spurs playoff game, but made her show the money for the tickets and then never paid them back, reports in the court documents. He had convinced them to invest thousands more in an event centered on the NCAA tournament that turned out to be a charade.

Prosecutors say many of Johnson’s victims lost their savings, had their credit scores ruined, or were forced into foreclosure or bankruptcy as a result of his plans. Big talk and big bucks: Texas scammers fooled dozens into investing in events like a Rihanna tour and the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight

Brian Lowry

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