Investment scheme snared hard workers

Mary Ellen Coffee is a 77-year-old Montrose widow who cleaned houses for a living and raised four children.

She invested — carefully, she thought — inheritances from her husband and parents, in the hopes that she would be able to pass that money on to her children when she died.

Augie and Pauline Reyes, also in their 70s, likewise invested wisely, or so they thought. Their goal was to have a few thousand dollars every year to go to Mexico to visit Augie’s aging mother.

Their stories were told in last Sunday’s Daily Sentinel by Gary Harmon.

They are heartbreaking.

And they are hardly the only ones to be told about the demise of Valley Investments, an apparent Ponzi scheme that, while not of the magnitude of the Bernie Madoff debacle, has left hundreds of well-meaning, hard-working western Coloradans with dashed dreams and empty bank accounts.

Just as in the Madoff case, they will be lucky to recover pennies on the dollar.

They are the apparent victims of someone else’s greed. They fell for an offer that seemed too good to be true, and it was.

But it’s too easy to say that they should have known better. Mary Ellen Coffee and Augie and Pauline Reyeses know hard work; they don’t know the complexities of modern investing.

When they put their money with Phillip Lochmiller and his son, they did so with the expectation that it was safe. What they didn’t know is that Lochmillers are believed to have taken their money to pay investors who had come before them in a classic Ponzi scheme. Regulators, much too late for Coffee and the Reyes, finally put a stop to the scheme in May when they shuttered Valley Investments and placed it in receivership.

No charges have yet been filed against the Lochmillers. We’ll assume that’s because regulators are carefully building a case.

If it turns out that they were in fact running a Ponzi scheme, in effect stealing from hard-working, honest Coloradans, then they should face a fate similar to Bernie Madoff’s.


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