From the Los Angeles Times
Deep down, Michael O’Hara knew the huge profits at Financial Advisory Consultants Inc. “were just too good to be true.”
So when his 70th birthday rolled around in 2000, and he had to start drawing down his individual retirement accounts, he hedged his bets by taking out more money than required by law.
O’Hara, a prosperous insurance agent from Placentia, regarded the $106,000 he had deposited in the 1990s in an FAC investment fund as “Vegas money.” And with the fund reporting annual returns of nearly 40%, O’Hara seemed to have hit the jackpot: Late last year, even after he had withdrawn $123,000, his FAC account balance was $700,000.
Then FAC crapped out. Two days before Christmas, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged the Lake Forest company and its owner, James P. Lewis Jr., with operating an elaborate, 20-year fraud.
An FBI raid of FAC’s office on El Toro Road turned up assets worth a bit more than 1% of the $813.9 million that Lewis’ clients supposedly had accumulated. Lewis, known to his family, friends and clients as an investment genius, was nowhere to be found. As of late Friday, he was being sought by the FBI.
Among the cruel twists of the FAC debacle is that so many investors, like O’Hara, were gambling with their retirement funds. Many lost virtually everything. According to SEC filings and attorneys involved in the case, the victims include Lewis’ computer technician, who mortgaged his house to invest with FAC, and the mother of Lewis’ live-in companion, who handed over her entire $250,000 in retirement savings.