Indiana businessman agrees to $3M fraud settlement

 IBJ Staff and Associated Press
January 14, 2011
Indiana businessman Lowell Hancher has agreed to pay $3 million and never run a public company again to settle allegations by regulators that he carried out three separate fraud schemes over 5 years.

An Indiana businessman has agreed to pay $3 million and never run a public company again to settle allegations by regulators that he carried out three separate fraud schemes over 5 years.

The Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that Lowell Hancher defrauded investors in a Colorado construction company, manipulated the stock price of the holding company of a classic car manufacturer, and abused his position on an Iowa company's board to misappropriate funds.

Hancher founded the Westfield-based Commerce Street in 2000 and was its sole owner until it stopped operating in February 2010. On its website, Commerce Street claimed to be a private equity venture capital firm that invested in small companies in the early stages of going public.

He is accused of raising more than $1.8 million between 2005 and 2007 from at least 60 investors in connection with a fraudulent stock offering for Scott Contracting Inc., a Colorado construction company.

In another alleged scheme occurring between December 2007 and February 2008, Hancher and others placed at least 18 manipulative matched orders for more than 60,000 shares of LMWW Holdings Inc., a company controlled by Hancher, to prop up its stock price and increase its trading volume.

According to the complaint, Whelan personally placed at least two of the matched orders in a brokerage account in the name of another one his companies, Grace Holdings Inc.

And between September 2008 and January 2010, Hancher is alleged to have abused his position as a director and audit committee member at Cycle Country Accessories Corp., an Iowa manufacturer of accessories for all-terrain vehicles and golf carts.

The complaint said he convinced the company to give him and others $620,000 under the guise of taking the company private through a stock buyback. Instead of using the funds as promised, however, the complaint alleges that Hancher and another defendant purchased just a small amount of Cycle Country stock and misappropriated $507,500 and $16,187, respectively.

The SEC's complaint in federal court in Iowa says Hancher used some of the money for personal expenses, including credit card and mortgage payments.

Hancher doesn't admit wrongdoing under the settlement, but he agreed to pay back nearly $2.4 million in proceeds, a $130,000 civil penalty, and $600,000 in interest.

His attorney didn't immediately return a message.