Reflex was sold in December 2009 for $180,000 to a group that was led by Nai Sung Chou and included Dong and Zhang, according to the SEC filings, and the company's name was changed to Landmark Energy Enterprise. Landmark went on to create a subsidiary in China, which partnered with a Chinese company called Dalian Aquarius.

There is little physical evidence of Landmark's operations in the Baltimore area. The company reported to the SEC that it leased a showroom at 706 N. Crain Highway in Glen Burnie for $1,062.75 a month, but it no longer is there.

The address is shared by a complex of buildings, including one that has a sign for Aquarius Energy in the window. A website for Aquarius Energy says that it works in hydrogen-oxygen generation, which can produce an environmentally friendly source of energy for industry. According to documents filed with the Maryland Department of Assessment and Taxation, Chou, of Severna Park, incorporated Aquarius Energy in December 2004 "to provide energy research, development and invention."

The company's space, though, currently houses a satellite TV company, whose employees say the Aquarius Energy sign was left behind by a previous tenant. The landlord of the building did not return calls for comment.

Earl Johnson, manager of Smith Auto Glass next door, said the tenants rarely used the space and appeared to be trying to sell a steel-cutting torch that was powered by hydrogen rather than the more common oxygen acetylene.

Johnson said the men occasionally had a group of potential customers who would arrive for a demonstration of the torch cutting through a pipe. "We have a display today, come see it," Johnson said the men would tell him when they demonstrated the torch in the parking lot. "It wasn't too interesting to me."

As the legal proceedings play out in state and federal court, Pik Hang Lew, 56, a jewelry designer and shop owner, says she is worried about money she invested in Landmark. She is listed on Landmark's SEC filings as a member of the board of directors, but said she is merely an investor and knows nothing about its operations.

Lew declined to say how much she invested. Landmark's annual report to the SEC says she owns 310,000 shares, and is among a group of officers who occasionally provide loans to the company for working capital. As of July 2012, the SEC filings say, Landmark owed a total of $298,012 to its officers.

Lew now worries that she has lost her money, having been unable to locate Chou, who once rented a home in Hanover from her, or reach Zhang and Dong by phone.

Lew said she met Dong and Zhang, who also uses the name Lily, through Chou about five years ago. Lew said Zhang frequently visited her shop and tried to get her and her relatives to invest in the company. She was surprised to learn about Zhang's arrest.

"I didn't know she has this kind of business," she said. "I don't believe she could do that kind of business."

As for Zhang, she said her attorney advised her not to comment publicly. On a recent morning outside her home, in a quiet neighborhood of narrow streets and stone houses in the Towson area, the shade from towering trees and the gurgle of koi ponds made the legal turbulence seem far away.

"We just want a simple life," she said.