Two years. That’s all it took for luxury brokerage firm Mercer Vine to establish itself as a major player in L.A.’s cutthroat luxury real estate market. Eight-figure listings. Pedigreed listings like Marilyn Monroe’s former home in Brentwood. The 55-agent boutique brokerage even claimed it had breached the billion-dollar mark in sales volume in 2017. But after allegations emerged late last year that the firm’s financier was running a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme, it took less than a month for the company to shut its doors.
It was a stunning fall for a firm that pledged in its mission statement to “innovate the industry while staying true to our core set of values.”
In December, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued the Woodbridge Group of investment companies and its owner, Robert H. Shapiro, for allegedly running a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme that bilked more than 8,400 investors from 2012 to 2017. Shapiro was the backer behind Mercer Vine, and in the Dec. 20 suit, the SEC named the firm a “relief defendant,” hinting that the SEC may go after the agency if it finds that it profited from Woodbridge’s alleged fraud.