Sonoma County CEO accused in student loan debt relief scheme to be released on house arrest

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A Sonoma County man accused of running a student loan debt relief scheme that collected $28 million over four years appeared in court for the first time Monday. He'll be released on house arrest with an ankle monitor bracelet Tuesday.

Outside the courtroom, Frere's family told ABC7 News this is a misunderstanding but government prosecutors say Frere's former employees have already implicated him.

RELATED: Sonoma County executive arrested for student loan debt relief scheme

Brandon Frere's Twitter profile is filled with posts about success and entrepreneurship but according to a government complaint, the Ameritech Financial CEO was running a fraudulent student loan debt relief scheme from 2014 to 2018.

Ameritech Financial collected more than $28 million in fees from clients in exchange for submitting documents to loan repayment plans.

In February, the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Frere for falsely promising consumers their monthly payments to Ameritech Financial would go towards paying off their student loans.

This past Wednesday, authorities arrested Frere on a wire fraud charge at SFO as he boarded a flight to Cancun, Mexico.

According to the criminal complaint, Ameritech Financial sales reps encouraged clients to inflate the number of members in their family so they'd qualify for the loan repayment plans.

Ed Swanson is Frere's representing Frere in the criminal case.

"He's been running a business that's been an ongoing struggle with the FTC now for over a year and a half," said Swanson.

Monday in court, government prosecutors spelled out why they believed Frere was a flight risk. They said he transferred millions of dollars to offshore and personal accounts, often preceding material developments in the FTC civil litigation.

Prosecutors said it appeared Frere was creating an "asset protection program" and that he'd soon follow his money overseas.

They also detailed a trip he took to Panama in April saying it was a jurisdiction known for money laundering. Frere's attorney said it was a fishing trip and that Frere forgot to tell pre-trial services he was taking the trip.

"There are an awful lot of issues in this case that are going to come out as the case goes forward," said Swanson.

Frere's attorney says Frere went to the FTC in December 2016 about the student loan business to make sure what he was doing was legit and got no response.

Frere will be released on house arrest with an ankle monitor device Tuesday. As part of his release the judge said Frere must surrender 25 weapons he owns. He also can't open up any new bank accounts. He'll be back in court in two weeks for a status hearing.
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