Consumer Alert: Ponzi scheme takes millions

He was a lay Bishop in the Mormon Church, who persuaded friends, family, including his own mother, and church members to trust him with their money. It all turned out to be a big scam.

A 2006 Aston Martin, conjuring up images of James Bond, Van Gogh's, Rembrandts, rows and rows of artwo 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 ran a ponzi scheme for more than 15 years and stole more than $20 million dollars 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 Pamela Durkee, US Postal Inspector.

What Shawn Merriman apparently "wanted" was the good life.

"He started taking money from investors - spending it on trips all over the world, including safaris, trips to Europe using it for his own personal gain," said Durkee.

More than 70 friends, family and members of his church invested more than $20 million dollars over 15 years.

"He kept sending them statements to his clients advising them of their earnings and their statement said they were earning in the range he represented 7-10% so no one was really the wiser as to what was really going on," said Durkee.

"We put in initially 50-thousand and went up to $110-thousand."

Tim Gilmartin was one of those investors. He heard about Merriman through a classic car restoration club.

Tim and his wife invested more than $50-thousand dollars with Merriman and they were stunned to hear it was all gone.

"I was in shock. I was numb….We heard he never invested a penny," said Gilmartin.

Some 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 advisor is buying-to see if the statements are accurate.

As for Shawn Merriman--he plead guilty and was sentenced to twelve years in prison. Postal inspectors seized more than five million dollars in personal property from his home, and will return a percentage to investors.

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