Davidson resident Steve Wieland has prayed with Gordon Grigg, invited the former Charlotte resident into his home and trusted him enough to let Grigg's company invest his life savings.
But last month, Wieland said, he began to get suspicious about the types of investments Grigg said he was making. He called a friend of his who also had invested with Grigg's company, ProTrust Management of Nashville, Tenn., who shared his concerns.
Then Wieland heard from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This week, the agency charged Grigg and his firm with securities fraud, alleging they defrauded at least 27 clients out of $6.5 million by claiming to have invested their money in securities that do not exist.
The SEC also obtained an emergency court order freezing their assets. The case is one in a recent series of alleged financial frauds by investment advisers both locally and nationally. Experts have said that a slumping stock market and increased scrutiny by investors has led to the exposure of investment fraud.
Wieland, 59, a disabled former pilot who flew for US Airways for 25 years, said he lost $252,000, the bulk of his life savings.
“You read about this happening in the newspaper. But when it happens to you, you go, ‘Oh my God, how do I recover,'” Wieland said. “I can't. I'm done.”
Grigg, 46, lived in Mecklenburg County from at least 1984 to 2000, records show. His attorney, Mark Pickrell, said in an e-mailed statement to the Associated Press that his client “agreed to entry of the temporary restraining order requested by the SEC, and he looks forward to working to resolve these matters as quickly as possible.”
The SEC complaint alleges that Grigg and ProTrust:
Falsely claimed to have invested client money in fictitious securities known as “private placements.” Private placements are legitimate forms of investment for securities that don't have to be registered with the SEC.
Created false and fraudulent account statements reflecting client ownership of the non-existent securities.
Claimed that clients could invest in government-guaranteed debt as part of the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, and that they had invested client funds in TARP. But there is no program that allows people to buy debt guaranteed by TARP.
Falsely claimed to have partnerships and other business relationships with several of the nation's top investment firms, including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.
The alleged fraud started in 2003.
Grigg holds himself to be a financial planner but is not licensed or registered with any state or federal agency to offer or sell securities, to be registered with any broker-dealer or to be associated with any investment adviser.
ProTrust also was subject to a cease and desist order in North Dakota in 2006 for allegedly selling nonexistent securities, records show.
The SEC said Grigg and ProTrust allegedly “preyed upon investors' desire for safety by claiming associations with reputable investment firms and the government's TARP program.”
The SEC has power to file charges in civil court, and has been talking with the Special Inspector General with TARP, which has investigative authority and can work with other agencies to file criminal charges in cases. A spokeswoman for the Special Inspector General declined to comment about the Grigg case.
As for Wieland, he doesn't know what he will do next. He has diabetes and back-related disabilities.
“I gave my money to a ‘friend' instead of doing my research,” Wieland said. “Never do that. I don't want anybody else to lose any more money.”