TAMPA (WFLA) – A Texas-based insurance company and a Tampa Bay-area radio personality teamed up to market an investment fund to listeners that the Securities and Exchange Commission calls an egregious fraud.
Mary Hansen of Clearwater and Tony Decillis of Spring Hill learned you can’t always believe what you hear on the radio. They are out big money.
“It’s horrible, it’s hard, I’ve been sick, I’ve been physically sick,” said Decillis, who invested $51,000 of his retirement money.
Day after day, Hansen and Decillis listened to 102.5 The Bone and radio personality Drew Garabo endorse a company called C 4 Benefits Group and a remarkable product C 4 was pushing.
C 4 was hired by Texas businessman Patrick Howard to run a radio campaign to find investors in his Optimal Economics Capital Partners fund, or O. E. Capital.
“The worst thing that can happen to C 4 clients, even when the next market crash hits, is a 12 percent gain,” one of the radio ads stated. One ad called the investment opportunity a “game changer.” Drew Garabo told his audience when he heard the details, “It blew me away.”
“Drew Garabo himself personally endorsed them,” explained Hansen.
“He was saying so many nice things about it, I gave them a call,” added Decillis.
He wishes he hadn’t.
C 4’s Darin Williams visited with both Hansen and Decillis. He steered them toward O.E. Capital.
The fund was supposed to invest in up-and-coming companies. And like the radio ads say, grow their money.
“What if your money could grow at a minimum of 12 percent a year. Yup, you heard that right, the worst case scenario the minimum, 12 percent,” the ad said.
Bill Schifino is a former president of the Florida Bar. He has represented both investors and investment firms. I played the commercials for him.
“I mean from the beginning, guarantee 12 percent, at that point it’s a scam,” said Schifino.
“We didn’t guarantee anything,” explained Darin Williams.
What about the ad that said, “The worst case scenario – the minimum 12 percent?”
“That is us telling the client what O.E. told us,” added Williams.
He admits the deal offered by Patrick Howard sounded so good that C 4 invested in it and so did members of his family. He claims C 4 did its due diligence and found nothing that raised any questions about Patrick Howard or his investment fund.
The Securities and Exchange Commission complaint states Patrick Howard and his companies raised more than $13 million by selling securities in O.E. Capital and other funds. Twenty-two of those investors were from Florida.
Investigators claim the funds “perpetrated an egregious fraud on investors.” The SEC calls it a ponzi scheme. Any returns investors received came from other investor’s contributions.
“I was also told that they were insured if anything were to happen to these companies that we would get our money back through insurance,” explained Hansen,
The SEC contends that no insurance-based assets were ever purchased.
Patrick Howard refused to admit or deny the SEC allegations.
The state’s Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) found that C 4 Benefits Group did not have a license to sell the securities, nor was it allowed to provide financial advice. It was only licensed to sell insurance.
OFR contacted the SEC about C 4 and the ads it was running. OFR learned there was an ongoing SEC investigation of Howard, and his O.E. Capital fund.
Williams said when C 4 learned of the SEC investigation, it pulled the plug on the marketing campaign in April 2016.
But the ads featuring a personal endorsement from Drew Garabo remained on C 4’s website until we started asking questions, one year later.
Drew Garabo declined to comment for this story.
Decillis says he was counting on that $51,000 to provide security for his family.
He says he spoke with an FBI agent investigating the case and hopes a receiver appointed by the SEC can recover some of his money.
“I’m very upset, my wife’s very upset, I mean, she worked very hard I worked very hard,” Decillis said as his voice shook.
Mary Hansen was depending on that money for a badly-needed knee replacement, which will now have to wait. And so will her retirement.
She has filed a lawsuit against C 4 Benefits Group, its directors, as well as Cox Radio, which owns 102.5 The Bone.
You can watch Investigator Steve Andrew’s story at 5 p.m.
8 On Your Side also found these top scams in the Tampa Bay area:
- CONTRACTOR SCAM or GYPSY CONTRACTORS – Scammers usually show up unsolicited to pave a driveway, put on a roof, or trim trees, for a low price to be paid in cash. Work is shoddy at best, and the “contractor” disappears.
- IRS SCAM – Caller threatens victim with arrest for back taxes owed and demands money.
- FEMA SCAM – Crooks file for benefits using victims’ addresses, social security information and other documentation, then make off with the grant or loan money.
- TRAVEL SCAM – Caller offers deep discount on travel – usually a cruise – takes a deposit or money for taxes and port fees, and vanishes.
- MYSTERY SHOPPER JOB SCAM – Victims applies for a job as a mystery shopper, receives and deposits a bogus check, and sends “the difference” back to the bad guys.
- OVERPAID SCAM- Victim lists an item for sale online. Scammer offers to buy, but sends a check for too much, to cover shipping or other costs, then asks for the seller to send back the difference. Trouble is, the “buyer’s” check was bogus.
- GRANDMOTHER SCAM – Scammer calls a senior, claiming to be a police officer and saying their grandchild is in trouble and needs money in order to be bailed out.
- PUBLISHERS CLEARING HOUSE SCAM- Caller announces victim has won a huge cash prize, sometimes in the millions of dollars, but must pay large sums for taxes or other fees. Scammer often asks for money order or gift cards to cover these costs.