Victim shares story after scam by close friends

By Jodi Mohrmann, Managing editor of special projects, jmohrmann@wjxt.com
Published On: Dec 07 2013 08:18:52 AM EST
Updated On: Dec 07 2013 09:30:00 AM EST

They thought they had invested their money in real estate, but instead, dozens of victims learned that the two friends they trusted like family were con men.

"I was disappointed, I was disillusioned, I was in disbelief," said fraud victim Shirley Lee. "It was like 'no, no this isn't so,' these are good people."

That's what Lee thought when she invested her retirement savings with lifelong friends.  But she found out her money was gone.

"The prosecutor's office called and wanted to talk about my investments," said Lee.

She along with 91 other victims had been duped in a $92 million Ponzi scheme.

"I never thought in a million years that these people would lie to me, and I think that hurt more than anything, that I was lied to and I wasn't discerning enough to know I was lied to," Lee said.

Investigators say "these people" are James Powell and David Calwell.

"A lot of people invested with these two gentleman because they knew them for a long time in the community and church," explained US Postal Inspector Alejandro Almaguer.

Victims were told their money was being invested in real estate.

"Ultimately what happened, some property was purchased, it went into disrepair but never was all the money put into these properties. Instead the money went into bank accounts and Calwell and Powell used them as their piggy banks," said Almaguer.

Postal inspectors say both men spent the money on their families, vacations and elaborate home re-modeling.

Almaguer explained, "Calwell lived in a small farmhouse and poured in hundreds of thousands to renovate the farmhouse. He had an indoor swimming pool, he had a barn with custom made stables for horses."

Lee is left with one nagging question.

"What would make you do that to somebody like this to people who trust you? What was their mindset? I kind of want to know why and hear I'm sorry," said Lee.

Investigators say the Ponzi scheme collapsed when Powell and Calwell weren't getting new investors. Calwell passed away before the trial began. Powell pleaded guilty to mail fraud and was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.

Postal inspectors say do not trust someone just because he or she is a friend or part of your community. When it comes to investing your money, always do you due diligence no matter who you are dealing with.

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