Scammer dupes church members, friends, his mother

Published On: Jan 22 2013 10:28:56 PM EST
Updated On: Jan 23 2013 07:40:00 AM EST

He was a lay bishop in the Mormon church who persuaded church members, friends, family --  including his own mother -- to trust him with their money.  And it turned out to be a big scam.

Seized from the home of Shawn Merriman was a 2006 Aston Martin, Van Goghs, Rembrandts, rows and rows of artwork, a baseball collection that included signatures from Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth. Merriman ran a Ponzi scheme for more than 15 years and he stole more than $20 million from his investors.

US Postal Inspector Pamela Durkee says Merriman initially wanted to start a legitimate investment firm, but things quickly went south.

“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,” Durkee explained.  “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.”

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 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.

Tim Gilmartin was one of those investors.

“We put in initially $50,000 and went up to $110,000,” he said.

Gilmartin heard about Merriman through a classic car restoration club.  Gilmartin and his wife were stunned to hear all the money they invested was gone.

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

Postal Inspectors say 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. 

As for Shawn Merriman, he 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.

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