DALLAS -- By most accounts, Dallas-area businessman Juan Miguel Lopez has had a meteoric rise.
He emigrated from Mexico about a decade ago, initially working various manual jobs, including serving as a busboy. Within a few years, according to those who know him, he turned white-collar, opening several North Texas businesses that received millions of dollars in investments.
Lopez’s businesses included at least two that specialized in wealth building. In his monthly magazine, Habitual, he claimed that his business seminars had helped create more than 1,000 new Latino businesses.
For his efforts, he garnered the prestigious Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and was named acting president of the Addison Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Many who know Lopez said his “rags to riches” rise embodied success. His lifestyle included guest appearances singing opera on stage, and driving fancy sports cars like a Ferrari and Maserati.
“We were like ‘Wow!’” recalled Heriberto Moncibais, chairman of the Tri-County Regional Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “We don’t know many companies coming in here applying to be a part of our chamber who have blue ribbons from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”
But Lopez’s image of success has been challenged.
Dozens of Hispanic investors now have claimed they lost most – or all – their life savings after investing in companies owned by Lopez that include Mito Group, Mito Financial and Mito Capital.
The investors say they were promised 3 to 8 percent monthly returns in their contracts with Lopez, investing a total of some $6 million – though the amount may be much higher, according to investors, former employees, and a state investigator.
But the monthly dividends paid out by Lopez’s company began to dry up beginning in late 2015, and the investors lost their principal investments.
Investors have filed three separate lawsuits alleging Lopez defrauded them when he failed to refund their principal investment under the terms of the contract. Several question whether Lopez and his companies ever loaned the money, gleaned from investors, to small businesses or other “third parties,” as stated in the contracts. Interest from the loans were to generate a return that would be used to pay investor dividends or commissions.
One investor, German Vivanco, has alleged he lost a $445,000 principal investment, with Lopez’s company bouncing a string of 19 checks, including two checks totaling $88,000 and $90,000.
Lopez, in responses to the suits, has denied the allegations. He also claims to have paid off several of the investors, according to written responses to the lawsuits.
Despite repeated interview requests, Lopez has failed to return WFAA phone messages. He also declined an interview request when News 8 caught up with him at a courthouse hearing.
For investors like Orlando Saul Garcia, an independent construction contractor, the enticement of monthly dividend checks was an opportunity, especially from Lopez, who had a reputation as an entrepreneur.
“He says: ‘Would you like to do something with your money? Like put your money to work?’” Garcia recalled. “I said: ‘Why not?’”
Garcia said he initially invested $18,000 in 2012, and was promised a 6 percent monthly dividend.
As the dividend checks began arriving, he and his wife, Raquel Rodriguez, invested more over the next three years.
“This is unbelievable,” Raquel recalled thinking of the money they were receiving. “We can pay off the house.”
Based on that initial success, they say they gave much of their live savings to Lopez – a total of more than $147,000.
Even Garcia’s 19-year-old daughter, Valeria, began to invest. She said her father who worked long hours, and always told his family to be wise with their money.
“My dad always thought, ‘I want to be financially free,’” Valeria said. “That was always his dream. And he was accomplishing it.”
Valeria invested her savings - a total of more than $27,000 – in two investments - with Lopez and his companies.
The Garcia family said they spoke with family and friends in Mexico, who also became enticed, and invested.
Carlos Mora, who helps head a construction company, said Lopez seemed legitimate, especially with his chamber of commerce ties. He invested $20,000, hoping dividends from the investment would improve his family’s financial health.
“Daycare for one. I’ve got three kids,” Mora said. “That’s what we would use the dividends for…Maybe an occasional, dinner with the wife…Build a nest egg.”
WFAA-TV has found investors from West Texas, to Florida and Mexico, who invested with Lopez and his companies.
But checks from Lopez’s companies began to come back returned with insufficient funds in late 2015 and early 2016.
“He assured us that everything would be fine,” Mora said after contacting Lopez.
“The excuses just kept coming,” he added. “And then finally – no contact, no payment.”
Lopez also told Raquel and Valeria not to worry. But they soon realized that they may have lost their principal investments.
“What are we going to do?” Raquel recalled thinking. “What about the kids? My house?”
“I figured I could pay off my community college and then go off to a university in two years,” said Valeria, who now says she may have to shelve her plans.
Lopez’s clients now question whether Lopez ever invested their money. But one thing is clear – Lopez was never licensed with the state to do banking, or registered to do securities investments.
“We believe this was an intentional misrepresentation that he made,” said Mora’s attorney Jordan Whitton. “We think this was all part of his plan.”
Mora’s lawsuit alleges Lopez “personally benefited from the fraud” and used one of his companies as a way to “coerce investors into his sham business.”
The victims aren’t the only ones who say they were fooled.
“He used the chamber and he used a lot of other folks to create trust,” said Moncibais of the regional Hispanic chamber.
One of Lopez’s businesses is now listed with an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau.
WFAA-TV has confirmed that the Texas State Securities Board has begun to investigate Lopez for possible civil and criminal securities-related violations.