A Southern California woman was arrested Friday on charges of swindling investors, mainly from China, out of $21.6 million in a phony condominium and hotel complex project.
Ruixue “Serena” Shi, 36, of Arcadia, was taken into custody by FBI agents on a criminal complaint charging her with wire fraud, a statement from the U.S. attorney's office said.
It wasn't immediately clear whether she had an attorney to speak on her behalf.
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Shi owned Global House Buyer, a China-based real estate development company, and was CEO of a Beverly Hills-based development company, according to court documents.
From 2015 to 2018, Shi solicited investments for what she claimed would be a 207-unit luxury condo and hotel complex in the Coachella Valley, near Palm Springs, prosecutors said.
Instead of building the project, she spent a large chunk of the money on a lavish lifestyle that included luxury cars, travel and designer clothing, prosecutors said.
Most of the prospective investors were in China and she reached out to them through sales presentations at hotels, radio advertisements, and the Chinese-based messaging, social media and mobile payment app WeChat, authorities said.
Victims who wanted to buy condos priced from $400,000 to $700,000 had to pay 40% of the price upfront as a down payment, prosecutors said.
Others were told that investing in the project would allow them to obtain U.S. visas, authorities said.
Some investors were sent phony photographs purporting to show construction underway, according to prosecutors.
If convicted, Shi could face up to 20 years in federal prison.