As Regina Preetorius was telling old investors she couldn’t pay their quarterly interest payments because of a real estate market slump, she was taking thousands of dollars from new investors and home buyers, according to testimony Wednesday at her fraud trial.
A federal court jury was told that the new investors and people who signed lease-to-purchase agreements with Preetorius in 2007 and 2008 would also lose everything invested or entrusted to her.
Preetorius has pleaded not guilty to 14 counts of mail and wire fraud, and three counts of money laundering. Her trial continues Thursday in U.S. District Court in Augusta.
“I was used,” Ralph Rand told the jury about the outcome of his dealings with Preetorius and her business, SDA & Associates.
He and Roxanne Sylvester signed a lease-to-own agreement with SDA for the Breeze Hill Drive home they fell in love with in September 2007. They agreed to $1,000 monthly payments and $6,700 down, Rand testified.
They had no idea that the house they thought they were buying from Preetorius didn’t belong to her, that the house had a mortgage going into default, and an investor with an $11,000 security deed for the property.
Dr. Eddie Cheeks had taken several real estate investment seminars before receiving a mailer from SDA. On March 20, 2007, he wrote a $50,000 check to the Reimer Law Firm Real Estate Trust Account. On Aug. 30, 2007, he wrote another $50,000 check on behalf of a charity he founded. He lost it all.
“I was used,” Cheeks testified.
Barbara Ring studied the SDA “Special Report” that laid out the company’s business plan, called the Better Business Bureau and Chamber of Commerce, and searched on the internet for SDA before she decided to invest her retirement money, $100,000, in February 2007. In exchange for the money, Ring, like all the other investors, got security deeds on specific property and Preetorius’ promissory notes.
The deeds proved to be worthless, Ring testified, because they hadn’t been legally recorded.
According to a Dec. 5, 2007, letter from SDA, April Avent and Victor Holliman thought they would be closing on the Pinnacle Way home as soon as their December rent check cleared. They had paid $1,275 a month for a year, and given Preetorius a total of $20,000 for the down payment – $10,000 more than their original lease-purchase agreement required.
The following month they got a foreclosure letter in SDA’s name at their Pinnacle Way address. Preetorius told her it was just a mistake and to ignore it and throw the letter away, Avent testified.
“This is how we found out the house was being foreclosed on and we were not about to close on the house,” she said. But in hopes that Preetorius was right and the letter was just a mistake, they made their payments to SDA in January and February 2008.
They didn’t know Preetorius wasn’t making the mortgage payments on the home. The eviction notice gave them 30 days to get out, Avent testified.
Brian and Kim Fichtner paid $6,250 down and $800 monthly rent payments to buy a West Lynne Drive home in Martinez from SDA on Dec. 3, 2007. They made improvements to the home and intended to raise their two children there.
They paid their monthly rent but no one paid the bank that held the first mortgage on the house.
On Kim Fichtner’s birthday June 11, 2008, they got an eviction notice. They would have to put their belongings in storage and move their kids, ages 12 and 14, into a motel. The children were devastated, she said.
“That was a real bad day,” Mrs. Fichtner testified.
They never got their $6,250 down payment back.