An Evans woman accused of costing many people their life savings, homes or both with her real estate dealings blamed the downturn in the real estate market and banks for the financial troubles, including her own bankruptcy.
And the attorney for Regina and Charles "Greg" Preetorius contends that any assets and property held in her corporations' names are protected from creditors.
The couple appeared Wednesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the first time since filing their Chapter 7 petition Aug. 4. They amended their petition this week to list a total of nearly $2.64 million in debts and $626,125 in assets.
The amended petition also lists potential income from legal claims against people who invested money with Ms. Preetorius, bought or rented homes from her company, or turned over their houses for Ms. Preetorius to sell. Legal claims may also be filed by the couple against attorneys who represent some of those people, and against The Augusta Chronicle, which they accuse of slander.
The newspaper investigated Ms. Preetorius and her businesses through transactions involving properties with a current market value of more than $10.6 million. Lawsuits and people interviewed by The Chronicle in an Aug. 17 story accused Ms. Preetorius of fraud.
About a dozen of the people who invested nearly $3.7 million with Ms. Preetorius' businesses, mainly S.D.A. & Associates, got the chance to ask the Preetoriuses questions at Wednesday's meeting.
What, asked the Columbia County Delinquent Tax officer, Lynn Farmer, is the Columbia County Center of Hope for the Blind Trust? It once held title to the Preetoriuses ' Windmill Plantation personal home , Ms. Farmer said. She was trying to figure out who owned more than a dozen properties in Columbia County that at one time were titled to S.D.A. or another of Ms. Preetorius' businesses or trusts . All of the businesses and trusts had the same address.
She wanted to know if those properties were included in the Preetorius bankruptcy.
If the properties aren't in Ms. Preetorius' personal name, they are not included in the bankruptcy, their attorney Todd Boudreaux said. That includes property titled to S.D.A., such as the Windmill home where Ms. Preetorius' mother lives and a Jones Creek house with a fair market value of $465,483.
That confused Dennis Malone, who asked to see a list of all the entities with the same post office box address that Ms. Preetorius uses. "I want to find out where all these things are. ... I want to find the interconnections," he said.
There are a number of people searching for those answers, bankruptcy trustee A. Stephenson Wallace said, but there wasn't enough time Wednesday. The meeting will continue Oct. 14.
Sylvia Caramerus, who invested $200,000 with Ms. Preetorius, said she understood how the real estate market sank but wanted to know why Ms. Preetorius didn't tell her that she stopped making mortgage payments and caused property she invested in to go into foreclosure. If she had known last fall - when Ms. Preetorius said
her finances crashed - she might have been able to recover some of her investment, Ms. Caramerus said.
"Honestly, Sylvia, I thought I could turn it around," Ms. Preetorius said.
Ms. Preetorius said her financial troubles began when a buyer on a million-dollar home backed out of the deal, the real estate market sank, banks started refusing to deal with her attempts to pay off first mortgages on homes, and renters stopped making payments owed to her companies.
Attorney Joe Ingram, who represents one family, asked Ms. Preetorius what happened in the cases of people who continued to make payments on their lease-to-purchase agreements.
His clients paid $15,000 down and almost $1,000 a month for nearly two years. The family was evicted when Ms. Preetorius stopped paying the first mortgage lender.
Ms. Preetorius said she made the first mortgage payments until October, when the adjustable rate payments increased. After October she used the money Mr. Ingram's clients paid her to pay her company expenses. That, she said, did not include any salary for herself.
Another attorney representing an investor asked Ms. Preetorius what happened to a DeKalb County property.
"I'm trying to remember," she said, then added that she was sure it was foreclosed on.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE BACK STORY
REAL ESTATE TRANSACTIONS
Regina Preetorius ran various businesses, including S.D.A. & Associates, with the stated purpose of assisting financially troubled homeowners to stay out of foreclosure or sell their homes.
According to lawsuits and people who talked with The Augusta Chronicle for an Aug. 17 article, she is accused of treating properties as her own and obtaining second and third loans on the houses that were provided by private investors.
In S.D.A.'s wake are more than 40 foreclosures on properties with a total fair market value of nearly $10.6 million.
The next meeting with Regina and Charles "Greg" Preetorius and their creditors will be Oct. 14 at noon. At least two attorneys will ask questions about the Preetoriuses' finances.
The bankruptcy trustee, A. Stephenson Wallace, will make a recommendation to the bankruptcy court judge on the acceptance or rejection of the petition, which seeks to erase all unsecured debts. The $2.04 million in unsecured debts does not include any amount of money for the home sellers or buyers of 56 different properties.