Regina Preetorius repeatedly assured people who did business with her that they had nothing to lose. They would discover they lost everything they entrusted to Preetorius, her alleged victims said in court Tuesday in Augusta.
Preetorius has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of wire and mail fraud and money laundering.
Arthur Kent told the court that he went over investment materials from a seminar carefully before contacting Preetorius at SDA & Associates to invest the $50,000 he had saved for retirement.
“I read it a dozen times. It seemed real,” he testified.
His first quarterly investment check arrived on time, but the next two were late. Then instead of checks he received form letters from Preetorius that sought to reassure investors. In the last letter, in April 2008, Preetorius wrote that investors had nothing to gain by hiring lawyers because she had no money left.
Kent, now 74, had to take a part-time job.
On cross-examination, Kent said he had lost money in the stock market before but that no stock had been bought with the personal guarantee of safety.
Charles Currington also caught a seminar in 2004 and invested $98,000, the settlement money he received after he was injured on his job as a high voltage lineman and left disabled. He lost it all to Preetorius, he said.
Both Kent and Currington testified that their money was supposed to be invested in specific properties that Preetorious would buy and “flip” for a profit or earn income on by installing renters. Each received recorded security deeds on the homes and promissory notes from Preetorius.
Preetorius’ former bookkeeper testified that investors’ money was used for businesses expenses and Preetorius’ personal expenses such as groceries, pet bills and occasionally her $4,000 monthly mortgage payment.
Investors testified that they would never have invested with SDA if they had known how the money was really used.
Chief Warrant Officer Andrew Sumpter said that after he and his wife divorced and were set for deployment to war zones, he signed over their Breeze Hill Drive home to Preetorius. He gave Preetorius power of attorney to sell the home and transferred responsibility for the mortgage to her in January 2006.
A chance check of his credit score in December 2007 proved shocking. Sumpter, expecting a perfect score, found it was 529.
“I was speechless when I saw that,” he said.
Sumpter discovered there was a mortgage on the home in his name and that several monthly payments were past due, he said. Though it wasn’t his loan and Preetorius presumingly had possession of the house, Sumpter paid off the past due amount and continued making monthly payments to try to stave off any blemish that could affect his top security clearance, he said.
He said he tried to get the situation cleared up with Preetorius for a year. In June 2008, she told him she was declaring bankruptcy.
Sumpter never got the house back. Eventually he could no longer keep up the payments on that home, pay his own mortgage and support his family. The bank foreclosed on the loan.
The trial continues today in U.S. District Court in Augusta.