As I sit down to write this article, I know it will likely be the most difficult composition of my writing career—difficult because it dredges up a miasma of regret, embarrassment, sadness and anger like nothing else I’ve experienced in life. I was conned out of almost a million dollars.

I will survive. But my mother was also conned—out of every penny she had. Her journey would prove much more difficult. The recollection of what I’m about to detail makes me feel stupid and gullible, like a sucker who should have known better. Then there’s the exasperation and indignation of watching someone skirt justice for one simple reason: There wasn’t ample time to hold him accountable for the fortunes he destroyed and the lives he crushed.

The federal statute of limitations on financial crimes is five years. Once you discover you have been defrauded, very likely two to three years have passed. Legal proceedings will chew up a year or two. By the time prosecutors decide there is merit in proceeding, the time has almost run out, and they will cease their efforts knowing they are up against the statute. This was our exact experience. By the time I brought the fraud to the attention of the FBI, they informed me that the perpetrator was already “on their radar”—but at this point, there wasn’t enough time left to do anything, and they couldn’t afford the time and resources to waste their efforts.

The man’s name is Wendell Corey, and he touted himself as a “developer.”

I had heard the name long before I ever dealt directly with him. He had developed some commercial properties in Iowa for a reputable grocery store chain. I had been invited to invest in those properties in the early stages by my trusted advisor, an accountant, who had served me faithfully for decades. For seven years, I received uninterrupted monthly dividend checks from those investments (note the Madoff similarity there).

The first time I met him face to face, I must admit I was underwhelmed. He had the visage, comportment and cadence of a snake oil salesman. If not for the impressive returns of the real estate investments, I would not have given him the time of day. Not only did he talk too fast, he would talk over the top of me. He boasted matter-of-factly about his various developments in burgeoning cities and suburbs. He offered, as casually as he could, to pick me up in his private jet and do a flyover of a development project in Dubuque, Iowa. I declined, growing increasingly more skeptical.

He employed a “developer’s” nomenclature that was hard to follow. He said all the right things, but there was something about the delivery that lacked credibility. All of this “wind” blew across me, and red flags popped up in my brain. But because he had come on the recommendation of my advisor––and because I had been paid handsomely from a lease for years—I had no substantive reason to doubt him.

He was seeking $200,000 for a development in Dubuque that was located on a prime piece of real estate at the edge of town. Dubuque, at the time, was the fastest growing commercial center in the state. Later, he sought another $400,000 for a commercial development in Tarpon Springs, Fla., during the retirement migration toward the Gulf side of the state. I loaned Corey the $600,000, and he gave me promissory notes and “economic interest” agreements in the projects with due dates three years out. He promised returns of 18% (that should’ve given me pause), but I was new at this and he came highly recommended. I later learned that one can offer any return under the sun when one has no plans to pay anyone back, and when one’s “agreements” are nothing more than liens on hot air. I was given liens on both properties—only to later discover that I was too far back in the lien line.

Once I smelled trouble, I contacted my attorney and asked him to do a mortgage search. All the liens combined far surpassed the resale value of the building where he had offered the lien. The long and short of it was that Corey offered me a worthless lien in the hopes that I would be placated by official-looking collateral documents. I was about to learn that this is an M.O. of certain operators: provide official-looking documents that are not worth the paper they are written on.

“You idiot,” I can hear some of you thinking. “Why didn’t you do the lien search before you invested?” And, yes, you would be correct. I can’t defend myself there. I was too caught up in the track record to suspect any problem and failed to do my homework on time—and this is only the beginning of regrets.

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