gavel

The seven senior citizens suing a Russiaville insurance agent for damages over lost retirement investments that were tied to a Ponzi scheme are now arguing that the evidence found through discovery overwhelmingly proves their case.

The lawyers for Reba Casler and Ted and Janet Miller, of Howard County, and Richard and Dorothy McCarty and Robert and Kathy Lane, of Clinton County, filed a motion for partial summary judgment on May 28 against defendant Ashley Wyrick, of Russiaville, asking Howard County Superior Court 2 Judge Brant Parry to rule in the plaintiffs’ favor without having to call a jury.

In a 27-page memorandum in support of summary judgment, the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Jacob O’Brien and Scott Starr, lay out the argument that some of the basic allegations in the lawsuit are “simple” and there are “no genuine disputes of fact as to her liability.”

To bolster that claim, the plaintiffs submitted 18 exhibits of evidence, including excerpts from a September 2020 deposition of Wyrick, a letter from the state’s securities commissioner saying the state did not have record of a license issued to Wyrick to sell clients retirement investments, sworn affidavits of the plaintiffs, a copy of the plaintiffs’ investment orders and more.

In the memo, the plaintiffs allege the exhibits of evidence prove the following:

  • Wyrick sold unregistered securities to the plaintiffs;
  • Wyrick was not registered to sell securities at all (whether said securities were registered or unregistered); and
  • Wyrick failed to disclose either of the foregoing facts to the plaintiffs in connection with their respective transactions.

Other defendants in the lawsuit are Gary and Cathy Gangwer, owners of Gangwer Insurance Agency, who hired Wyrick as an independent contractor in 2012, though the plaintiffs are asking for summary judgment against only Wyrick at this time.

According to a complaint filed March 11, 2020, in Howard County Superior County 2, at different points in either 2016 or 2017, Casler invested $152,000, the Millers $25,000, the Lanes $110,000 and the McCartys $25,000 into Woodbridge, all at the recommendation of Wyrick. According to the complaint, all plaintiffs have “lost the majority” of their investments after Woodbridge filed for bankruptcy in 2017.

The complaint also alleges that the plaintiffs were told there was little risk on the investments, that they were safe for seniors, that Wyrick would not be compensated for selling the securities, and that the investments were protected against loss.

Both the Gangwers and Wyrick have denied the allegations in court filings. Shortly after the complaint was filed last year, Wyrick’s attorney at the time, Brian Oaks, issued a statement that Wyrick believed Woodbridge was a legitimate company and that the allegations against her were “untrue, extremely hurtful, and have caused her much pain.”

In her September 2020 disposition, Wyrick said she was not aware and was told by other insurance agents across the country and by Woodbridge that what she was selling to the plaintiffs was not securities.

Wyrick has not yet formally responded to the motion for summary judgment.

Woodbridge, led by Robert H. Shapiro, defrauded about 8,400 total investors from 2012 to 2017, including high-profile names, such as ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. The pitch was simple: Invest in historically safe mortgage securities and earn a guaranteed return, ranging from 5% to 8% annually.

Woodbridge invested its money into almost 200 commercial and residential properties. Investors were told their returns would be paid out by the profits of the high-interest loans given to third-party borrowers for the properties. Instead, a Securities and Exchange Commissioner investigation found, the loans were given to various LLCs that didn’t have any revenue and never paid interest on the loans. As is typical with a Ponzi scheme, Woodbridge used new investors’ money to pay returns to existing investors, regulators found.

The investigation also found that Shapiro had used at least $35 million of the total $1.3 billion invested into Woodbridge for personal use, spending it on jewelry, luxury cars, political contributions and payments to his ex-wife. He was later found guilty on charges related to the Ponzi scheme and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

In their memo of support for summary judgment, the plaintiffs’ lawyers argue that Wyrick knew by at least April 2016 of the multiple legal cases filed in other states against Woodbridge, citing an email Wyrick sent to Robert Lane after Lane researched the company and saw the then-pending lawsuits.

In the email, Wyrick wrote that the lawsuits were of “no concern for me and my clients” because the problems in the other states were not applicable to Indiana.

Tyler Juranovich can be reached at 765-454-8577, by email at tyler.juranovich@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @tylerjuranovich.

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