June 8, 2015

Have you ever wondered about those self-proclaimed financial gurus that appear on cable news channels to spout their Theory of the Day, or general complaint about Obama?

I haven't, because I figure that any guy with a client base and a public relations contact can worm their way into a booker's heart, just like Todd Schoenberger did. Schoenberger is a frequent commentator on CNBC, Fox Business, and more. And of course, he's conservative.

Mr. Schoenberger has now been sanctioned by the SEC for ripping off his clients so he could use their money to buy himself some nice things.

What he did isn't all that unusual in the financial services industry. He invented a limited partnership investment called LandColt and put some land he owned in it. Then he used the land to sell clients on investments in the partnership based on non-existent commitments to develop an onshore investment fund.

But as the SEC notes, the only commitments came from duped clients who tossed $130,000 into the kitty for Mr. Schoenberger's personal use.

Schoenberger’s claims were false. There were never firm commitments by an investment bank or any accredited investors to invest in the Onshore Fund. Moreover, Schoenberger diverted more than half of investor funds he received—at least $67,000—for his own personal use, including for use as a down payment on the construction of a new home and to pay living expenses. The Onshore Fund never launched and no investor received the returns promised by Schoenberger.

It was intended to be a pyramid scheme. Had more investors kicked in, Schoenberger would have paid some return back to the original investors and kept more for himself. Here's a recent California case that runs along the same lines, again featuring so-called financial pundits.

The SEC complaint notes that Schoenberger traded on his Fox Business appearances to build credibility for himself in order to garner investor confidence in the scheme, so that he could target people who may have thought they were being savvy by investing in his scheme, but could ill afford to lose so much money.

Two of his "investors" were textile mill employees, age 58 and age 38. One was a 75-year old retired farmer, and the fourth doesn't have any details mentioned. These are people who wouldn't really have the savvy for proper due diligence, but might be impressed by his appearances on Fox Business as someone who was legit. In fact, he was anything but.

Schoenberger has been ordered by the SEC to disgorge the remaining funds in the so-called investment, been barred from the financial industry and to pay interest to the extent he is able.

It also appears that if the SEC is able to recover any addition funds from Schoenberger, they will apply them to make Investor C whole first.

The sanctions don't go far enough, because it is possible for Schoenberger to re-enter the financial services industry on petition to the SEC at some point in the future. He should be barred for life. In an even more cruel twist of fate, it appears that Schoenberger is also in bankruptcy proceedings, which means he could walk out of this without having to work the rest of his life to repay those funds to the investors, unlike students who default on student loans, or those who owe the IRS back taxes.

Here's the moral of the story, though, and what people should take away from it. First, don't believe someone just because someone put them on TV. Second, when you're promised a 20 percent rate of return in an environment where it's a stretch to hit 8 percent, it really is too good to be true, and should be regarded as such.

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