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 Settlement Agreement 

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Michael Santos

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Below is an example of a full-disclosure settlement agreement that I send to anyone that agrees to work with me. I am provide this agreement to comply with a settlement I made with the Federal Trade Commission.

On January 14, 2020, a federal judge signed a “Stipulated Order,” that finalized a settlement agreement in a civil matter brought against me in bad faith by the Federal Trade Commission. The order includes certain provisions that may have a bearing on our working relationship.

For more detailed information, including all supporting documentation, please review the following web page:

In the interest of full disclosure and transparency, I offer this declaration which I swear to be true and correct.

History:

On July 31, 2018, my wife and I provided a cashier’s check to Newport Land Group for $1.4 million as limited investors in a project earmarked for development in Costa Rica.

check
Cashier’s check to fund my investment in Newport Land Group

The LLC shares we purchased were for a new entity called Rancho Del Mar. Newport Land Group held the Rancho Del Mar investor funds in preparation for making the Costa Rica real estate purchase.

In addition to our personal investment, I invited several family members and friends to join us. In total, our group contributed $3.35 million to become limited investors in the Costa Rica real estate project through Newport Land Group.

Lawsuit:

In November of 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued each of the general partners of Newport Land Group as part of an ongoing effort to prevail on matters from an unrelated case that dated back to 2005, when I was still in prison. The case information follows.

United States District Court of Maryland, Southern Division

In re Sanctuary Belize Litigation

No: 18-CV-3309-PJM

When the FTC sued the general partners in the above-referenced case, it was clear that Rancho Del Mar project in Costa Rica was not going forward. The $3.35 million investment funds from limited partners remained in a Bank of America account in the name of Newport Land Group. In an effort to retrieve those funds, all of the limited investors joined together to sue Newport Land Group for breach of contract.

The FTC responded angrily to our lawsuit against Newport Land Group. They believed that our group’s $3.35 million, invested for an entirely separate project, was a part of their initial lawsuit against Sanctuary Belize, because all of the same principals were involved. When the attorneys representing the limited investors refused to drop the suit against Newport Land Group, the FTC lawyers became incensed and chose to punish by amending their lawsuit against the general partners and Sanctuary Belize.

On December 28, 2018, the FTC’s amended lawsuit named Newport Land Group and me as additional defendants in the case. The lawsuit accused me of being an authority figure with Sanctuary Belize and its related entities. That lawsuit exposed me to civil liability of $140,000,000.

When the FTC added me to the lawsuit, the Court froze all additional assets that my wife and I owned. In addition to the $1.4 million liquid investment we made to join in the Costa Rica real estate project, the Court froze our other bank accounts as well as all of the investment real estate we had acquired since my release from prison. At the time of the lawsuit, those assets were valued at approximately $3.5 million.

Litigation:

After burning through more than $250,000 in legal fees, I dismissed my attorneys and chose to proceed without counsel. I attended every deposition and participated actively in the discovery process.

While attending more than a dozen depositions, I took extensive notes and deposed the witnesses myself. Based on the abundance of evidence I gathered, it was clear that I could show:

  • I did not have any decision-making authority with the developer,
  • I did not set policies for the developer,
  • I did not share in profits or receive commissions, and that
  • I never interacted directly with any consumers,

I prepared an extensive motion for summary judgment that proved I was a limited investor and not a principal of the company.

Although I felt strongly that I would prevail in trial, several attorneys that had knowledge of the case helped me understand the risk of litigation. Since the matter was civil in nature, the FTC had a very low threshold to hold me liable. They would only have to show that I either “knew or should have known” that authority figures had violated FTC rules. My history of imprisonment, along with a friendship I had with the development team, exposed me to enormous financial risk. Further, the same judge from 2005 was presiding over the case and he held enormous bias against the company principals from previous matters.

If the FTC prevailed, I would have a judgment of $140,000,000 against me. With that judgment, I would never be able to own real estate or build a business again.

Settlement:

Based on what the attorneys advised, I stipulated to a settlement agreement with the FTC. It was a difficult decision, because I knew that the FTCs allegations were false. The evidence gathered in depositions confirmed that I never had authority and that I was not a principal or director of any entities included in the lawsuit. That settlement agreement did not require me “to admit or deny any of the allegations in the Complaint.” Nevertheless, the settlement required that I accept burdensome terms, including:

  1. Monetary judgment in the amount of $86,092,438.67.
  2. Forego all my frozen funds or assets, including:
    1. $1.4 million I invested toward the Costa Rica real estate project,
    1. $24,528.93 in frozen cash accounts,
    1. $900,000 Coastal Way Property,
    1. $1,300,000 Birch Hill Property,
    1. $650,000 Lindberg Property,
    1. $250,000 Falling Leaf Property,
    1. $350,000 Chase Avenue Property, and
  3. $50,000 Miscellaneous Business Investment
  4. Total Value of Assets I Agreed to Forfeit: $4,874,528.93

In exchange for walking away from $4,874,528.93 in assets, with approximately $3,000,000 in equity, the FTC agreed to suspend the remainder of the $86 million judgment against me.

California is a joint-property state; therefore, my wife is also subject to the financial terms of the settlement, even though she was not a part of the lawsuit. At the time we controlled our properties, my wife and I maintained excellent credit. We had mortgage debt of approximately $1.7 million and we paid those mortgages on time.

As a result of the settlement, however, we lost control of the properties we once owned together. The Receiver representing the FTC did not pay the mortgages on time, which damaged our credit as a result of this settlement.

The settlement allowed me to go on with my business career—provided that I abide by specific permanent injunctions, including the two that follow:

Permanent Injunctions:

In addition to surrendering $5 million in assets that I accumulated since my release from prison, I also had to abide to specific injunctions, including:

  1. I cannot own any real estate that includes more than two separate units.
  2. I cannot participate in (or assist others that participate in) any type of business that assists consumers with any type of debt relief product or service.
  3. I must also keep the FTC apprised of any business that I launch or oversee.
  4. I cannot make any misrepresentations.

If I violate any of the injunctions, the FTC has the right to lift the suspension and move to collect the remainder of the $86 million judgment against me. That suspension of judgment would expose me to further civil litigation; it could require me to surrender any additional assets that I’ve accumulated since January of 2019, when the FTC added me to the lawsuit.

In the interest of transparency and disclosure, I have published a full story, including copies of the Stipulated Order for Permanent Injunction and Monetary Judgment that Judge Peter J. Messitte signed on January 14, 2020.

The link above offers more insight into:

  • How I became involved in this investment opportunity,
  • How the 26 years I served in prison influenced perceptions and exposed me to liability,
  • What I learned from this process,
  • How I intend to rebuild my life after this new challenge.

Although titled as “To whom it may concern,” I’m providing a copy of this abbreviated letter to everyone with whom I have a business relationship.

I made every decision in good faith, with hopes of building a family business. My 26-year history of imprisonment, however, continues to complicate my life. Now I must overcome this new hurdle.

Through Earning Freedom, doing business as Prison Professors, I document every step of the way. As I advanced through prison, I will also move through this hurdle with my dignity intact, and with a 100% commitment to transparency.

This document was last updated on October 20, 2020.

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