LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3) -- A scammer can hide out in the middle of the most trusted group.
In this Rip-Off Alert, a lay bishop in the Mormon Church persuaded friends, family -- even his own mother and church members -- to trust him with their money, and it all turned out to be a big scam.
A 2006 Aston Martin -- conjuring up images of James Bond -- Van Goghs, Rembrandts, rows and rows of artwork, and a baseball collection that includes signatures from Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth: They were all seized from the home of Shawn Merriman, who was accused of running a Ponzi scheme for more than 15 years and stole more than $20 million from his investors.
Postal inspectors say Merriman initially wanted to start a legitimate investment firm, but things quickly went south.
"Early on he made some poor business decisions with trades and got himself upside down and started to recognize how he had control of these investors money and he could do whatever he wanted with it," said U.S. Postal Inspector Pamela Durkee.
What Merriman apparently wanted was the good life.
"He started taking money from investors,” Durkee said, “spending it on trips all over the world, including safaris, trips to Europe using it for his own personal gain."
More than 70 friends, family and members of his church invested more than $20 million over 15 years.
"He kept sending them statements to his clients advising them of their earnings,” Durkee said, “and their statement said they were earning in the range he represented 7 to 10 percent, so no one was really the wiser as to what was really going on…"
Tim Gilmartin was one of those investors. He heard about Merriman through a classic car restoration club.
"We put in initially $50,000 and went up to $110,000,” he said.
Gilmartin was stunned to hear it was all gone.
"I was in shock. I was numb,” he said. “We heard he never invested a penny."
Merriman pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Postal inspectors seized more than $5 million in personal property from his home and will return a percentage to investors.
Advice from postal inspectors: to avoid ending up a victim of an investment scam, check your monthly and yearly statements with the actual fund groups your adviser is buying to see if the statements are accurate.