A federal trial began this week for a married couple who prosecutors say oversaw and executed a $300 million fraud involving thousands of investors who were told they would get big profits by purchasing distressed properties in the Florida Keys that would be transformed into luxury vacation resorts.

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Instead, prosecutors say Fred Davis "Dave" Clark Jr., former president of now-defunct Cay Clubs Resorts and Marinas, and Cristal Clark, a top sales agent, defrauded banks and about 1,400 individual investors through a series of misleading marketing materials and false statements. The investors in some cases were promised quick returns of 15 to 20 percent, according to court documents.

One such brochure, according to the documents, trumpeted that Clearwater-based Cay Clubs would allow people to "Retire Rich and Young in Paradise!" In fact, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerrob Duffy told jurors in an opening statement, the company knew as early as 2007 it could not meet all its obligations and would never transform its decayed properties into luxury resorts.

"This case is about greed. It is about lies and deception," Duffy said. "It is about telling those lies to others so the defendants could get rich on other people's money."

Eventually, the company allegedly became a Ponzi scheme in which money from newer investors was used to pay off older ones, with no new profits or loans coming in. The company's resorts were supposed to be in 17 locations in Florida, Las Vegas and the Caribbean.

The Clarks previously pleaded not guilty to bank fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy charges. If convicted, they each face potentially decades in federal prison. The trial before U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez is expected to last about six weeks.

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