Texas coin companies target elderly investors

Heads you lose, tails you lose

In his deposition, Lance Loftin, a salesman for two years at First Fidelity Reserve, said managers instructed him to tell customers that putting money in coins was like putting money in the bank. "If they buy $10,000 worth of coins from First Fidelity, it's really worth about $4,500," Loftin said.

In his deposition, Mark Fumoso, who still works as a sales manager at Universal Coin & Bullion, said that he often encouraged customers to move money out of government-insured certificates of deposit and into coins. When pressed, Fumoso admitted he didn't even know what CD stands for.

"I would tell [a customer] to go to whatever measures, you know, sell stock, do whatever you've got to do as far as moving some other investment dollars around to make it happen because it will benefit you," Fumoso testified.

Coin expert Michael Fuljenz doesn't like the term "high-pressure." He prefers to call his salespeople enthusiastic.
Todd Spivak
Coin expert Michael Fuljenz doesn't like the term "high-pressure." He prefers to call his salespeople enthusiastic.
Fuljenz has written several award-winning books on rare coins, which he uses to direct customers to his Beaumont-based companies.
Fuljenz has written several award-winning books on rare coins, which he uses to direct customers to his Beaumont-based companies.

In his deposition, Fumoso said customers can always say no to buying coins: "I can't jump through the phone and make them do it."

But Rollins and other former employees said in their depositions that customers were in fact forced to buy coins since managers instructed them to make unauthorized charges to customer credit cards.

Rollins also testified that salesmen would run out the clock on the companies' ten-day return policy by avoiding phone calls from irate customers, and then inform them that any refunds would include an expensive restocking fee.

In her deposition, Stacey Hernandez, a saleswoman for 11 years at First Fidelity Reserve, explained the importance of storytelling. "It was because people bought stories," she said. "We were always told to build a story because people buy stories. Not the coin, the story."

And many stories were outright lies, according to Hernandez.

For instance, she said, there was the moose head story, about a couple who bought a cabin in the woods and discovered a trove of one-of-a-kind rare coins in some taxidermy on the wall. Then there was the divorce story, about an amazing deal on rare coins hastily unloaded by a couple in the midst of a messy separation. And, perhaps most common of all, was the tall tale that Fuljenz — known to customers as "the Warren Buffet of coins" — had personally handpicked some coins from the vault for that customer's collection.

The building that formerly housed First Fidelity Reserve even had a "heat room," Hernandez said, where salespeople told made-up stories as part of hyper-aggressive sales pitches to customers. In order to create a false sense of drama and urgency, as if they were operating on an actual trading floor, salespeople often yelled things like "Ten coins gone! Fifty thousand gone!" according to Hernandez.

"If someone just got off the phone with a client, people would ask, ‘What did you get them for?' Or, ‘How much did you get?' Or, you know, ‘You took him for this or thatÉ'" Loftin said.

According to several depositions, there was no better storyteller than Jason Whitney, a current sales manager for 1st American Reserve and First Fidelity Reserve and son-in-law of company owner Tyrrell Garth.

According to depositions, Whitney often bragged about "mind-screwing" customers, which involved confusing and berating them into buying coins.

"He would give them so much information so fast, and everything almost ran together, that they didn't even know what was going on, really," said former First Fidelity Reserve salesman Aaron Freeman in a deposition.

"[Whitney] sold an individual a coin, and everything that he told the individual about the coin did not pertain to that particular coin," Freeman testified. "It was a totally different story about another coin. And after he got off the phone with the client, he said, ‘I'm that good. I didn't even know what I was talking about and I still closed the deal because I'm that good.'"

Whitney, who did not respond to interview requests, is also fond of invoking religion when selling coins to the elderly, according to several former customers.

In May 2004, 80-year-old Oklahoma resident Mary Wensauer sent a formal complaint regarding Whitney to the Texas Governor's office. Wensauer wrote that Whitney convinced her to move all her savings into coins, then made several unauthorized charges to her credit cards.

"Governor Perry," Wensauer wrote, "this incredibly cynical young man even used my Christian faith as a sales tool. He claimed that he had rededicated his life to Jesus Christ. He said he prayed about these investments for two hours and that God had given him a ‘peace' about it being the right thing for me to do. In later conversations, he always said to remember that ‘we' prayed and God gave ‘us' peace about doing this.

"As I began to run out of money, Mr. Whitney became increasingly angry and abusive. He quit asking me to invest and started ordering me to do things."

According to depositions from several former employees, Whitney and other managers ordered them to use these bare-knuckle sales tactics. Anyone who complained or questioned them was labeled "a cancer."

"It was always turned around that I was the negative one," said Hernandez in her deposition. "I was the one with the problem."

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