Every year, more investors watch helplessly as their retirement savings vanish because of investment fraud. Many of these individuals are elderly investors 65 years of age or older. According to researchers, scams from Ponzi schemes to frauds involving bogus private placements and promissory notes cost U.S. seniors $3 billion a year.
Just this week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed fraud charges against an Indiana man accused of stealing millions of dollars in retirement savings from clients. The SEC alleges that John K. Marcum of Noblesville, Indiana, and Guaranty Reserves Trust LLC used clients’ money for personal use and to fund a bounty hunter reality TV show.
Marcum Cos. LLC was named as a relief defendant in the SEC’s case. Marcum is the principal of both Guaranty Reserves and Marcum Cos.
“Marcum tricked investors into putting their retirement nest eggs in his hands by portraying himself as a talented trader who could earn high returns while eliminating the risk of loss,” said Timothy L. Warren, Acting Director of the SEC’s Chicago regional office, in a statement. “Marcum tried to carry on his charade of success even after he squandered nearly all of the funds from investors.”
The SEC says that Marcum allegedly raised more than $6 million from at least 37 investors by selling investments in Guaranty Reserves Trust. Clients were allegedly told by Marcum that their principal was guaranteed and their proceeds would earn large returns from day trading. In addition, Marcum allegedly provided investors with account statements showing that he had used their money to achieve annual returns of more than twenty percent (20%), with no monthly losses. Marcum also reportedly told his clients that he would use their money to earn strong returns by day-trading in stocks.
In reality, Marcum did very little actual trading, and when he did, he suffered significant losses. Instead of day-trading, Marcum used his investors’ money as collateral for a $3 million line of credit for himself. Marcum turned to this line of credit to finance several start-up businesses, including a bridal store, a soul food restaurant and bounty hunter reality television show. Marcum also used investor money to finance his lavish lifestyle, which included luxury car payments, airline and sporting event tickets, expensive meals and hotel stays, the complaint states.
In the complaint, the SEC says that Marcum assisted many of his investors in setting up self-directed IRA accounts at several trust companies. The investors gave Marcum control of their assets by either rolling their existing IRA accounts into the newly-established self-directed IRA accounts, or by transferring their taxable assets directly to brokerage accounts which Marcum controlled.
Marcum and certain investors then co-signed promissory notes created by Marcum and issued by Guaranty Reserves Trust, which were then allegedly placed into the IRA accounts, the SEC says. The notes were securities and stated that the individual is making an “investment” with GRT. The promissory notes also repeatedly stated that the securities are “asset-backed,” “secured” and “guaranteed,” and promise the payment of interest based on “100% of the asset’s performance.”
Marcum’s scheme, which began in 2010, began to unravel in mid-2013, when certain investors began demanding distributions. Marcum could not comply, because virtually all of his investors’ money was gone. Faced with the reality of being unable to honor investor redemption requests, the SEC alleges that Marcum provided investors with a “recovery plan” that revealed his intention to solicit funds from new investors so that he could pay back his existing investors.
In June 2013, the SEC says Marcum had a phone conversation with three investors in which he admitted that he had misappropriated investor funds and was unable to pay investors back. During this call, Marcum begged the investors for more time to recover their money, the SEC alleges. According to the complaint, Marcum offered to name these investors as beneficiaries on his life insurance policies, which he claimed included a “suicide clause” imposing a two-year waiting period for benefits. Marcum suggested that if he was unsuccessful in returning investors’ money, he would commit suicide to guarantee they would eventually be repaid.
The SEC obtained an emergency court order to freeze the assets of Marcum and his company.