Belmont man charged with running a Ponzi scheme

Secretary of State William F. Galvin on Tuesday charged John W. Cranney of Belmont with running a Ponzi scheme that defrauded at least 36 victims nationally of $10.4 million, by promising high returns on safe investments for retirement.

The state’s Securities Division alleged in an administrative complaint that Cranney took client funds for his own use.

Cranney has been a longtime represenative for Shaklee Corp., a California company that recruits sales people to sell health and personal care products. According to the complaint, Cranney used investors’ money to fund his Shaklee business. He also used money from one set of investors to repay other investors pulled into his scheme, the complaint alleges.

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Most of Cranney’s victims are affiliated with Shaklee, and “many are senior citizens,’’ Galvin said. In Massachusetts, alleged victims invested more than $1.5 million with Cranney.

Cranney’s lawyer in Hartford, Thomas Finn, said “We’re aware that the division is conducting an investigation and Mr. Cranney has fully cooperated.”

Finn said he was alerted that a complaint was being filed, “and we will address the issues in the complaint in due course.”

Galvin’s office alleged that Cranney offered and sold unregistered securities in the form of promissory notes. Cranney allegedly used his longtime affiliations with family, friends, and colleagues at Shaklee, to gain their trust and solicit investments.

According to Galvin’s officer, Cranney was “sponsored into Shaklee” in 1967 and is sponsor for about 50,000 distributorship contracts. He and his family are credited with bringing Shaklee to the East Coast, Galvin said.

A Shaklee spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.