Say your insurance agent or financial adviser asks you to invest $25,000 on a sure thing with a "guaranteed" rate of return, with a company you never heard of. Do you cut a check right then and there, without asking a single question? Well, that appears to be what nearly 300 folks in Texas and Wyoming did about four years ago: Their money -- in some cases their entire pensions -- went to a Houston-based company called National Life Settlements, which allegedly secured interest in third-party insurance policies.
When Texas State Securities Board investigators started sniffing around, they learned that National Life Settlements was co-founded and run by an elderly three-time federal felon in Houston and a failed businessman in Colorado. Believing the men were hawking securities without proper registration, the Board had the company seized in 2009 and its assets frozen. A court-appointed receiver testified that little of the money was actually being invested as advertised, and the bulk of the $20-plus million was being used as a piggy bank for the co-founders.
Now, the business partners are charged in Harris County District Court with misleading investors. But as this week's feature "Betting Their Lives" shows, if Howard Judah and Greg Jablonski are indeed scam artists, they're really bad ones.
They didn't move their money offshore or try to hide it in a series of elaborate corporate shells. Jablonski made damning admissions in a deposition. And Howard Judah's deposition wasn't much better -- at one point, stumbling for the word "computer," he refers to a "big square thing." Yet these men, with no legitimate backgrounds in investment, were able to get millions in a very short period of time.
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Budding swindlers could use this case as a template. With a few tweaks, it's entirely possible Judah and Jablonski could have continued for years without attracting attention from the authorities. If these guys could almost do it, anyone can.