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Man defrauds $9 million, files for bankruptcy protection, faces charges by SEC

By David Pendered

The former CEO of a defunct Turkish/American chamber of commerce, who resides in Alpharetta, has been charged with defrauding $9 million from investors who shared his Turkish background, were recent arrivals from Turkey and spoke little English.

The federal bankruptcy court for Northern Georgia is located in the Richard B. Russell Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, in Downtown Atlanta. (File/Photo by David Pendered)

The $9 million was not enough to keep the businessman from filing for federal bankruptcy protection. He claimed a debt in the range of $10 million to $50 million owed to up to 49 creditors, according to his voluntary petition for bankruptcy protection, filed Oct. 2, 2019 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Atlanta.

The list of debts starts at $4,000, owed to a Citibank credit card, and quickly balloons into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for each of a dozen accounts, until it reaches an unsecured claim of $4,046,296 from Wallis State Bank, in Houston.

Charges filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission contend that for three years, 2016 to 2019, Omer Casurluk (also known as Timur Efe) and the entity he controls, Star Chain Inc., bilked investors who had recently arrived from Turkey and spoke little English.

During these three years, Casurluk was listed as CEO of the Turkish American Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast United States, which is identified as a non-profit entity based in Roswell until the state dissolved it in 2020.

The SEC’s statement does not mention Casurluk’s involvement with the Turkish chamber. His involvement with the chamber appears in articles filed with the Georgia Secretary of State.

According to the scheme outlined by the SEC, Casurluk simply lied to newcomers from Turkey about a method to buy into a restaurant franchise

“The investor-victims in this case believed that Casurluk was introducing them to a legitimate investment opportunity,” Nekia Hackworth Jones, director of the SEC’s Atlanta Regional Office, said in the statement. “Instead, as alleged in the complaint, Casurluk deceived the investors by inflating the purchase prices of the restaurants, and using investor funds to support his own lifestyle and his unrelated businesses.”

Casurluk and his now-dissolved company, Star Chain, allegedly offered the newcomers an opportunity to invest in quick-casual restaurant franchises. These types of eateries offer the convenience of fast food, with dining areas that offer more comforts.

The deal presented to investors offered each of them the opportunity to acquire restaurant franchises by joining in a 50-50 partnership with Star Chain, according to the SEC statement.

The fraud came into play immediately, according to the SEC.

The purchase price Casurluk and Star Chain showed to investors was inflated above the actual price to be paid. The deal appeared to have 50-50 splits paid by the investors and by Star Chain. In reality, only the money provided by investors went into the deal.

Another facet was the investor’s names never appeared on any paperwork. Only Star Chain’s name was listed, according to the SEC statement.

Finally, the SEC contends Casurluk converted the investors’ money to his own use, and to support other businesses he owned, including a construction company and unrelated quick serve restaurants.”

Casurluk had climbed quickly up the ranks of the Turkish American Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast United States, according to the state’s records of the business.

Starting in 2013, Casurluk appeared as the chamber’s registered agent. Three years later, in 2016, when appears in the position of CEO. He stayed in that job until the secretary of state dissolved the chamber as a corporation in October 2020, for failure to register and maintain good standing.

Both the Casurluk and Star Chain were charged with multiple counts by the SEC in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. Both settled the case by admitting no wrongdoing, and agreeing not to engage in the same businesses in the future. In addition, they have agreed  to terms yet to be determined regarding payment of fines and penalties, and repayment of the money they defrauded from investors.

 

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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