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"CHiPs" TV star agrees to guilty plea in criminal stock-fraud case

October 7, 2010 |  9:21 pm

Larry Wilcox, the former “CHiPs” TV star accused of securities fraud for manipulating penny stocks, has agreed to settle criminal charges in the case.

Wilcox, 63, reached a plea agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office for southern Florida on July 2, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by the South Florida Business Journal on Thursday.

He could face up to five years in prison.

The Justice Department filed criminal charges against Wilcox and nine other penny stock promoters on Thursday in Miami, at the same time that the Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil securities fraud charges.

Jon The government alleges that the promoters agreed to pay kickbacks to investors in classic “pump and dump” schemes: The cooperating investors would buy shares of the promoters’ thinly traded penny stocks, with the goal of driving up the prices in the hope of luring other investors into the shares.

Typically, that’s a way for the promoters to then dump more of their own shares on unsuspecting investors.

What the promoters didn’t know was that the investors they were paying off were government agents operating a sting, the SEC and Justice Department said.

Wilcox, who lives in West Hills, starred as California Highway Patrol motorcyle officer Jonathan "Jon" Baker on the hit show "CHiPs" in the late 1970s and early '80s. "CHiPs,” which ran from 1977 to 1983, also starred Erik Estrada as Francis "Ponch" Poncherello.

More recently, the government says, Wilcox headed a company called UC Hub Group Inc. The firm’s website says it’s involved in “precious metals, gems, and the oil and gas industry.”

UC Hub’s home page also includes this mouthful: “The company is also focused to increase the value for shareholders by doing the proper due diligence to prove economic validity for the acquisition of the target systems, operations, company or companies.”

The stock lately has been selling for a fraction of a penny, but it got as high as 3 cents a share in early 2009, the period when the government alleges that Wilcox's manipulation scheme was underway.

-- Tom Petruno

Photo: Larry Wilcox, left, and Erik Estrada as Jon and Ponch in "CHiPs" circa 1980