A group of retired energy company workers is claiming in a lawsuit that a deceased, unregistered advisor scammed them out of $18.5 million of their life savings.

The 14 former clients are suing the estate of Joseph Pezzano, and his CPA firm Bond, Pezzano & Etze, and purported advisor firm JPA Associates, both run out of the same office in Collegeville, Pa.

The former clients allege that Pezzano falsely portrayed himself as an advisor and a CPA and talked them into putting their nest eggs into "low-risk, low-return" investments.

After he died in December, however, the clients say they found out he lied about his credentials and that their money had disappeared.

Pezzano promised the plaintiffs he would invest their retirement savings in low-risk, long-term investments with a steady rate of return, according to the lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

He promised to put the clients' money into conservative REITs and annuities with guaranteed fixed rates of return between 7% and 8%, the lawsuit claims.

Within weeks of Pezzano's death, however, Pezzano's CPA firm notified the clients that they would no longer prepare their income tax returns and denied any knowledge of their investments or of Pezzano’s advisory practice, according to the lawsuit.

Pezzano's statements were “materially false and uttered to perpetuate and conceal Pezzano’s fraud and to attempt to escape liability,” the suit alleges.

Similarly, Pezzano's estate and heirs “refused to provide any information [about] the status of their investments and location of their funds,” according to the lawsuit.

Most of the plaintiffs are former employees of Exelon/PECO Energy Co. who were given the option at retirement of cashing out their pensions and receiving a lump-sum distribution to invest in other retirement vehicles. None were sophisticated investors, the lawsuit says.

They sought safe, conservative investments for their life savings and retirement, which Pezzano allegedly promised, the lawsuit claims. But “each of [his] representations was materially false,” the suit contends, and solely intended to induce the retiree to “repose their trust and confidence in Pezzano.”

The plaintiffs also claim that they received fake or misleading account statements to lull them into a false confidence.

The accounting firm, investment brokerage, estate and heirs are all accused in the lawsuit of being aware of Pezzano's illegal activities and misappropriating the plaintiffs’ retirement funds for their “own personal benefit, use, and enjoyment.”

The lawsuit alleges eight counts of fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duties, unjust enrichment, and related charges under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

Attorneys for both sides did not immediately respond to requests for comment.