Suspect is accused of trying to sell fake ownership shares in the Miami Heat to former pro athletes
By Gary Walker
A yearlong multi-agency probe into an alleged scam involving the sale of fake ownership shares in the Miami Heat to victims that included a former NFL quarterback came to an end last month at Los Angeles International Airport, resulting in the arrest of a suspect who was charged with fraud last week.
FBI agents arrested George French Jones, 45, on Feb. 21 at LAX upon his arrival from Miami.
The California Attorney General’s Office charged Jones on March 7 with 11 counts of grand theft, fraud and identity theft. Jones faces up to nine years in state prison if convicted and is being held without bail at Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles.
A March 11 arraignment hearing was postponed to Friday, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
Jones was initially arrested for violating terms of his probation on a previous auto theft conviction but at the time was also under a joint fraud probe by the FBI, the Los Angeles Police Dept. and the Los Angeles County Probation Dept., said Eric Newby, director of special enforcement operations for the Probation Dept.
The investigation began in March 2013 after representatives for the Miami Heat contacted law enforcement with allegations that Jones was selling ownership interests in the organization that he did not own, Eimiller said.
During the year-long probe, investigators learned that Jones reportedly targeted former NBA and NFL players, including Hall of Fame former NFL quarterback Warren Moon.
Jones scammed victims out of nearly $300,000, according to his 11-page indictment.
According to the document, a representative for Moon told investigators that Jones had promised to introduce Moon to a minority owner of the Heat who was interested in selling his shares. Jones also allegedly sold Moon that minority owner’s courtside seats for $200,000, but Moon’s representative later discovered that an altogether different person owned those seats.
Jones allegedly conducted his scams using office addresses in Century City that were obtained through identity theft and fraudulent accounts, according to the document.
The Probation Dept.’s Special Enforcement Operations Unit had an undercover officer who worked with the FBI on the investigation, according to a probation department statement.
Newby said the terms of Jones’ auto theft probation had not required him to report to an office and speak with a probation officer, but instead check in at probation kiosk locations. Jones last checked in at a kiosk in December and the following month a warrant was issued for his arrest, Newby said.
Eimiller said investigators believe Jones’ alleged scam may have involved offers to other potential victims.
The FBI is urging urge anyone with information to call its Los Angeles office at (310 477-6565.