By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A southern California company that sells beer, wine and bottled water targeting female customers has been sued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly defrauding investors out of millions of dollars.
In a complaint filed on Tuesday, the SEC said SHE Beverage Co raised over $15 million from more than 2,000 investors in unregistered stock sales from 2017 to 2019 by falsely touting its business plans and promoting its successes.
The SEC said the Lancaster, California-based company overstated revenue, spent only 2% of investor proceeds on beverage inventory instead of the promised 30% and made bogus claims it had received takeover bids as high as $500 million.
It also said Chief Executive Lupe Rose, Chief Financial Officer Sonja Shelby and Chief Operations Officer Katherine Dirden misappropriated at least $7.5 million from investors, including $1.2 million spent at casinos and other sums to buy cars, trucks and luxury goods and make lease payments on a home.
"We have reviewed the complaint and we look forward to correcting the record and proving that the allegations are inaccurate in open court," Jonathan Bletzacker, a lawyer for the company and the executives, said in an email on Wednesday.
The SEC said SHE was incorporated in 2015, six years after co-founders Rose, 52, and Shelby, 58, both of Palmdale, California, began working on its concept.
SHE's website describes the company as "celebrity driven," with water products designed to serve a "health cautious" audience.
The SEC lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court seeks civil fines, the recoupment of ill-gotten gains, and officer and director bans on the individual defendants.
The case is SEC v SHE Beverage Co, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, No. 21-07339.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Mark Porter)